Health Information Exchange Featured Article

June 19, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Cloud for Healthcare?

By now, most healthcare organizations have considered putting their data in the cloud. It’s much less costly than managing an IT infrastructure, it’s more convenient and many of the concerns about security and confidentiality of data have been alleviated.

But as Michelle McNickle reports, there are some healthcare environments where moving to the cloud doesn’t make sense, at least right away. That’s because, as she quotes one expert, the cloud is right for some circumstances, and not so much for others.

"The shifting IT landscape is prompting more and more questions around cloud computing models and their immediate value proposition," Mariano Maluf, CTO at GNAX, told McNickle in an interview. "Changes in work style and device formats, coupled with new application platforms and delivery methods, all coalesce to challenge the IT status quo."

However, "this is an irreversible trend, so caution does not mean inaction; you will be better off by learning how to live in this new reality sooner rather than later," he said.

The cloud, where data is stored and managed in a unified frontier on the Web, is not new. It’s been around for at least the last 20 years.

But in the healthcare industry it’s been kicked around for a while, trumped by very real concerns about security breaches, as well as obtaining a fast and reliable Internet connection with the bandwidth requirements for all that data, according to Zina Moukheiber at  

And it’s not a minor issue – 5.4 million patient records went missing in just 2010 alone, nearly doubling in just one year from 2.4 in 2009. Experts don’t attribute that to cloud computing, of course, but it is a danger that’s out there, especially when you’re dealing with the Web.

The idea of the cloud applied to public practice in the 1960s. Cloudtweaks says it’s likely it came from the diagrams of clouds used in textbooks to show the Internet.

As Jonathan Bush wrote, the cloud was very exciting when it was further developed back in the 90s. But many companies exploded.”

“A countless number of companies and technologies and ideas were harmed – and in fact, blown up completely – between the days of the brick Motorola cellphone and the iPhone of today.”

In healthcare, that would have been disastrous. “If each of these companies had been dealing in critical patient information and lives were at stake, this would have been a dangerous game. The innovation would have been faster but the collateral damage would probably have been too much for our social values,” Bush added.

But the cloud has come a long way since then. In fact, in a piece in The Guardian, John Sculley, former Apple CEO, is quoted by Charles Arthur as believing that the future of our health is in the clouds, driven by the overwhelming amount of big data requiring management and analysis in today’s healthcare world.

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Edited by Braden Becker