Physician practices among potential cloud computing beneficiaries

The forecast for cloud computing is mostly sunny – with an expected compound annual growth rate of 20 percent over the next five years, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets – and many healthcare organizations are ready to bask in the glow. Stakeholders seem ready to accept that the technology's advantages will outweigh potential issues in the areas of security, interoperability and compliance with government regulations.

[See also: Cloud computing challenges the status quo]

Healthcare providers, particularly physician practices and community hospitals, have good reason to give cloud computing at try, said Jamie Coffin, vice president and general manager, Dell Healthcare & Life Services.

“They don’t have the IT expertise to run these things,” Coffin commented. “With the security and privacy regulations around things like HIPAA compliance and new [requirements] to encrypt every drive, the things they’re having to deal with now are astronomical for a physician practice.”

[See also: Cloud-related PHI security holes – and what to do about them]

Here are three big trends Coffin and Dave Nesvisky, senior director, healthcare, at cloud company NetApp see today.
  • Physician practices. More physician practices are turning to cloud-based EHRs. The EHRs may be from companies such as Allscripts, athenahealth, NextGen or eClinicalWorks, but companies such as Dell, NetApp, IBM, Verizon and others are likely providing “the cloud,” explained Coffin. Just like “Intel inside,” Coffin likes to say. “We’ve become kind of the 'Dell inside' a lot of the major cloud players in this space.” Coffin said physicians are moving to the cloud faster because they’re smaller and they have less expertise. They have less incentive to stay out of the cloud. “The challenges are obviously convincing people that their PHI will be secure, that there won’t be a data breach, added NetApp’s Nesvisky. “That’s easily solved,” he said. “I don’t see any impediment. Your bigger impediment is just organizations that feel that running IT is a core competency.  They would rather keep it in-house. They feel they can do a better job by keeping it in-house than letting it go out.”
  • Community hospitals. Community hospitals, too, increasingly are viewing the cloud as an option for their EHR and other IT, said Coffin. “We’re starting to see it move fairly quickly, he continued. “Three quarters ago, we started this offering in the cloud – MSite (a hosted solution for Meditech hospitals). “Now we have more than 60 customers in the Meditech cloud. That’s a very small portion of the Meditech hospitals, but it’s a very fast trend compared with any other offering we’ve ever brought in the market.” Hospitals are beginning to offer cloud services themselves, according to Nesvisky. “I’m seeing a big uptick in private cloud where a provider will be essentially the cloud provider to their community of interest. So, they’ll provide the services to other hospitals, clinics and practices in their sphere, in their ownership."
  • Medical imaging. “We’re seeing a huge shift in the cloud around medical imaging right now,” observed Coffin. “We just signed deals with Siemen and Agfa (Dell provides the cloud for those two companies), and we’re talking to most of the other major players in the medical imaging space. That’s a huge trend.” Nesvisky agreed, noting that images are a critical part of the medical record. “PACS imaging – all the modalities: MRI, CT, X-ray – is being digitized and stored. But because the modalities are becoming more powerful, and the images are more fine-grained and use more storage, and there are more images being created and, because of regulatory requirements, they have to be retained longer, storing images is becoming a huge problem because of how much storage [the images] are taking up. So there are now opportunities to archive to the cloud images that are not viewed frequently."

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