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Healthcare Heads Toward The Cloud

Healthcare has been slower than most industries to embrace cloud computing, but that's starting to change.

The cloud is destined to play a much larger role in healthcare than it has so far. That will be especially true as more providers adopt e-health records and other digitized clinical systems. It will also be pushed along by storage-hungry systems like 3-D medical imaging and health information exchanges looking to provide more efficient ways to share data.

Healthcare has been slower to embrace cloud models than other industries. The reasons for this range from security concerns to a heavy reliance on paper that has kept many hospitals and medical practices from moving quickly to electronic systems.

But that's changing, as healthcare providers are starting to see the advantages of cloud computing. Those advantages include cost savings, as well as more nimble and faster ways of streamlining servers, adding storage capacity and rolling out new applications without having to have resource-stretched IT groups get involved. With these benefits in mind, the demand for flexible cloud computing models in healthcare will grow.

"A transformation is underway in healthcare," said Roberta Katz, director of EMC's healthcare and life sciences business, and cloud computing will increasingly play a role in it. The technology exists, including products to secure sensitive data, consolidate and virtualize that data, and offer cloud-based applications as well as storage and IT as a service, she said.

"Many healthcare organizations are budget conscious. They're looking at ... how they can support their growing volumes of data and address their legacy applications while adding new healthcare applications," said Katz in an interview with InformationWeek at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference Monday in Orlando.

For its part, EMC offers a variety of products and services addressing those concerns, from cloud-based infrastructure and storage for picture and archiving communication, electronic health record, and other business and clinical systems, to data security and analytics products, she said.

Katz expects many different cloud models will take hold, including hospitals offering hosted EHR services to affiliated doctors and regional and state health information exchanges delivering data from multiple sources to healthcare providers at point of care.

One key question being asked is how to virtualize and consolidate infrastructures to bring in data from multiple sources to get a complete view of a patient's health, Katz said.

Healthcare providers would do well to look at other industries such as financial services, that are further along with cloud computing. They're already addressing the security, data availability and data sharing challenges healthcare providers are now facing.

Now's the time to take a hard look at what the cloud offers and get ahead of this growing trend.

Need help sorting one electronic health record vendor's pitch from the next? Get the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. Download it now.

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