The field of health care is constantly evolving. New innovations in medical devices and revolutions in patient treatment are constantly changing the way healthcare practitioners deliver care.
In recent years, another innovation has shaken up the healthcare sector: cloud computing. As healthcare organizations grow, the cloud has played a crucial role in helping them maintain their operations while adhering to stringent security requirements.
The cloud has many benefits to bring to the field of health care, but it can also come with a few drawbacks. Let’s break down some of the biggest pros and cons of the cloud in a healthcare setting:
Pro: It’s an affordable solution
Like most organizations, healthcare entities often struggle to adhere to their tight budgets. What little they have to allocate to IT needs typically goes toward the maintenance of their existing systems. As such, very few healthcare organizations have the budget needed to pursue new, innovative solutions—leaving them stuck with systems that are outdated and unable to keep up with their evolving needs.
Cloud solutions are far less expensive than traditional on-premises IT setups—and becoming more affordable all the time. When launching cloud services, healthcare organizations don’t need to divert most of their spending to new hardware, software, and other equipment. Cloud providers make these resources readily available via a subscription. This allows businesses to pay only for the services they need, resulting in even greater cost savings.
Con: It may be beyond the capabilities of existing IT staff
The cloud is beautiful in its simplicity for individual users, but enterprise users such as healthcare entities may struggle with a more comprehensive cloud system. Migrating an entire organization to the cloud isn’t as simple as moving resources from one server to another. It can be quite a challenge for inexperienced IT staff to grasp the cloud-based concepts of configuring and testing their resources throughout the migration process.
Many IT workers who are already well versed in virtualization will need additional training to be able to navigate cloud environments successfully. Even some of the most basic day-to-day IT tasks will require new knowledge to handle properly in a cloud environment. Healthcare organizations may struggle if they do not possess the right enterprise cloud expertise, leaving their IT workers overburdened and opening themselves up to additional risk.
Pro: It affords better security
According to a report from Cisco Australia and New Zealand, 67 percent of healthcare entities say that implementing the cloud will be of the greatest benefit to their security. It’s true—the cloud can improve data security in ways that are unattainable in an on-premises setup.
The cloud gives healthcare organizations unprecedented choice when deciding how and where to host their data. Where some may benefit from public cloud infrastructure, others may need to host their information in the private cloud. There is also the option to combine the two in a hybrid cloud setup, which allows them to capitalize on all the greatest benefits of cloud infrastructure while keeping their most sensitive data secure.
Disaster recovery is, perhaps, the greatest advantage of the cloud in the healthcare setting. On-site data centers can fail at any time, leaving these organizations without access to their data, applications, and other vital resources. In the cloud, the risk of failure or breach is much lower. Should in-house servers go down, IT staff can simply restore any lost data from the cloud.
Con: But there are still concerns about cloud security
Most organizations that hesitate to migrate to the cloud cite security as their biggest concern. Worries about data exposure and other potential threats keep many healthcare entities from employing the cloud. This is due to stringent compliance requirements such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires these organizations to implement certain protections to keep patient data safe.
Cloud security may not be perfect, but it still offers more safeguards than in-house IT setups. With the right security tools and protocols in place, healthcare entities can ensure that none of the data they house in the cloud will be at any greater risk of exposure than it would be in their own data centers.
Pro: It fosters collaboration between medical professionals
Health care is a collaborative effort that often requires doctors from all over to work together to diagnose and treat patients. The cloud has created numerous avenues through which doctors can communicate with one another and better serve their patients.
Practitioners that use the cloud can talk via video conference, share data, and connect through other applications that make collaboration much easier. The development of electronic medical records has also streamlined patient care by giving medical professionals access to patient histories at a moment’s notice.
Con: Availability isn’t a guarantee
When migrating to the cloud, healthcare entities put a large amount of control into the hands of their providers. Though every cloud vendor strives to achieve a certain amount of uptime, every cloud platform experiences downtime at some point. This can be an issue for healthcare providers, who must be able to access their data at all times of day and night. When cloud services go down, the entire organization can come to a grinding halt until those services are restored.
Pro: It’s easy to scale based on need
In the cloud, healthcare entities can scale their resources and storage capacity without hassle. Instead of needing to install additional servers on site, they can simply provision additional space in their providers’ centers. This ability is vital for healthcare organizations as they grow and evolve over time. It can even keep providers ahead of the curve during times of peak patient demand (e.g., flu season) without needing to spend extra to scale their own hardware.