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Deloitte's Life Sciences & Health Care Blog

Hospitals could find a silver lining in the cloud

Pennsylvania Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the US, opened its doors in 1755 and built the nation’s first surgical amphitheater 50 years later. In the early 19th century, this surgical area on the hospital’s top floor offered state-of-the-art technology. Procedures were usually conducted in the mid-afternoon – ideally on cloudless days – to take full advantage of the large glass skylight high above the operating table. Thomas Edison’s first incandescent lightbulb, another technological advancement for hospitals, was still about 75 years away.

Hospitals are light years beyond where they were 200 years ago (or even 20 years ago), and technology promises to change them even more dramatically. Cloud technology, for example, could disrupt hospital business functions and alter the way care is delivered. Cloud-based electronic health records (EHRs) – populated by interoperable data from a variety of sources and combined with artificial intelligence – could transform decision-making processes and help improve the quality of care. EHRs coupled with scalable cloud-based analytics can open the door to new types of patient monitoring and predictive interventions. Such EHRs can also improve operational efficiencies by enabling faster access to actionable insights at lower costs than traditional IT models.

While industries such as banking already rely on cloud technology, many hospital IT departments are just beginning to explore the peripheries. However, I suspect that once one large hospital or health system embraces the technology in a way that changes how it interacts with providers and consumers, competitors will likely follow. In a new report, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions examines the Hospital of the Future and looks into how cloud technologies can play a role in transforming hospitals.

Five myths about cloud technology and emerging IT

When it comes to cloud technology and emerging IT, there are a handful of myths that might keep some hospital leaders from considering these technologies. Let me try to dispel a few of the most common ones:

  • Myth #1: The cloud is not secure Industry literature confirms that the cloud is generally more secure than more traditional in-house technology.
  • Myth #2: Cloud technology is expensive – There is a perception that it is cheaper to maintain existing in-house IT and spend money on modest updates. But that strategy is likely to be far more costly in the long run.
  • Myth #3: IT is a cost center for the hospital – The IT department should be viewed as an innovator rather than as a traditional cost center. A key feature of cloud-based technology is on-demand and scalable services. Platform as a Service (PaaS) in the cloud provides access to ready-to-use, scalable, integrated applications and data hosting. This capability, combined with a well thought out strategy, could help the health system establish business and clinical differentiators in the market. Hospitals, for example, could help anticipate customer preferences and likely health needs.
  • Myth #4: Technology will solve my problems – It is a mistake to think that technology on its own merits will lead to innovation or solve problems. Technology should be paired with the right people and processes. If there isn’t a solid understanding of the problem, technology probably can’t fit it.
  • Myth #5: Technology will eliminate jobs – In many instances, technology will significantly alter the focus of the work. Artificial intelligence that is linked with process automation allows employees to improve their productivity or create new opportunities for themselves. It shifts the work to an exception-based focus, enabling early detection and corrections. People tend to be averse to change, so leadership should help minimize fears and encourage staff to move forward. It is OK to take a calculated risk.

Cloud-based databases could improve care
Now that I have busted some of the common myths, let’s look at what technology can offer. Cloud-based solutions can be designed to be available across medical devices and geographies, and more securely than traditional on-site IT solutions. The ability to analyze massive amounts of patient data requires both storage and capacity. Cloud has the ability to meet this demand with flexibility and speed through a virtual expansion of computing and storage resources as needed. Patterns can be identified that help predict potential health issues. This can include emergency detection for the elderly, monitoring of patients with chronic disorders, and the detection of escalating symptoms for patients who have behavioral health issues. Care can be provided remotely and outside of the hospital’s four walls – after discharge or even before an admission.

Moreover, the ability to share standardized data could become an important part of future care delivery. Comprehensive, real-time patient data at the point of care can help improve outcomes. Such data can include genetic, social, and behavioral patient information, as well as financial, clinical, and administrative records. Data can be securely stored in the cloud and accessed on an as-needed basis – perhaps on a blockchain (a distributed, immutable electronic ledger of digital transactions that is shared and editable by various stakeholders). This can offer easy and secure data access from multiple locations and devices. It also can maintain the data at a lower cost than more traditional storage options.

Some hospitals are reluctant, or unable to invest in new IT. Over the past decade, many hospitals and health systems have made substantial investments in EHR systems. Some hospital leaders want to optimize those investments before embarking on the next step. Other hospital leaders have begun to adopt cloud-based solutions where the benefits are clear and the risks related to protected health information (PHI) are deemed acceptable. By 2021, we expect public cloud service providers will likely process a significant percentage of IT workloads among health care providers.

In the early 1800s, a cloud floating above Pennsylvania Hospital’s surgical amphitheater might have made a procedure more difficult and had a negative impact on patient care. Two hundred years later, virtual clouds and other technologies may hold the potential to help hospitals improve the way they care for patients.

Author bio

Chris has 23 years’ experience in health care. He leads his clients through large revenue cycle and clinical operational transformations enabled by digital and EHR technologies in complex academic multiple entity health care institutions. He has also been an accomplished Information Services leader within academic medical center organizations.