This article was written by Dr. Rachael Bailey, Healthcare IT Content Consultant at Atlantic.Net. Despite being traditionally slow to embrace change, the healthcare industry has welcomed the transformative power of adopting cloud-based services. As an industry that has been under unprecedented strain over the past 18 months, healthcare organizations are eager to embrace technologies that increase the security of sensitive patient data. This article will discuss how cloud technology is transforming the health sector and how organizations can maintain compliance and ensure that their patient data remains secure.
Why has the health sector been slow to embrace the cloud?
Businesses and organizations across the world are rapidly adopting to cloud-based services. This is expected to continue, with Gartner forecasting growth in worldwide spending of 23.1% in 2021, increasing from $270 billion in 2020 to $332.3 billion. Despite rocketing growth across most industries, the health sector has been reluctant to embrace the cloud. The transition from on-premises infrastructure has been hampered by regulatory restrictions, legacy healthcare equipment, a lack of funding, and concerns about data security. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited many organizations’ implementation of cloud services as they work to support remote working and education. The healthcare industry is catching up, realizing how invaluable the cloud will become as we navigate our post-pandemic recovery.
The transformative power of the cloud
The global pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the healthcare system, increasing the demand for resources and capacity. Healthcare providers must keep up while still providing quality and affordable care to patients quickly. In addition, modern healthcare services generate a massive amount of sensitive patient data, which must be handled safely and securely. Embracing cloud-based services provides healthcare organizations with the power to address these issues. Cloud computing solutions bring many benefits to the healthcare sector, including:
- Deploying cloud infrastructure lowers costs significantly. Healthcare providers will not have the initial outlay for on-premise server hardware, software, and licensing fees and will only pay for the services that they use.
- The flexibility of cloud infrastructure ensures that resources can be scaled up or down when required. In healthcare, patient flow and workflow can change rapidly, which has never been more evident than during the pandemic.
- Cloud computing provides the optimum environment for effective collaboration between doctors, departments, and organizations. Geographically disparate specialists can review patient cases with ease, improving the standard of patient care and experience.
- Cloud storage allows large amounts of data to be stored safely and securely. This works out to be much cheaper than the maintenance of physical storage systems.
- Security remains the primary focus of healthcare organizations. The integrity of sensitive patient data must be protected, and organizations must adhere to strict regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA. By partnering with a HIPAA compliant cloud hosting provider, healthcare professionals can be reassured that their infrastructure remains fully compliant and secure. This also takes the hassle of compliance away from healthcare professionals to focus on their patients.
- The cloud is driving innovation in medical research. It provides the infrastructure and power needed to support big data analytics, improving decision-making, advancing medicine and improving patient outcomes. For example, data analytics and AI/machine learning capabilities enable doctors to provide their patients with personalized treatment plans.
Cloud computing can significantly improve access to healthcare by supporting telehealth services and data collection from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Digital health services enable the collection of real-time data, improving both patient outcomes and experiences. For example, telehealth has proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that patients can access much-needed health services and maintain patient-physician relationships.
Streamlining compliance and security
Cloud infrastructure is now utilized across many areas of the health sector, including data storage and analytics, disaster recovery, and telehealth solutions. As they migrate to the cloud, healthcare professionals must ensure that protected health information (PHI) is securely handled and stored. With data security and compliance paramount, healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to HIPAA compliant website hosting to streamline their workflow and take the pressure of compliance off their shoulders.
Migrating to the cloud introduces a unique set of security risks and challenges, including the possibility of HIPAA violations and resulting regulatory action, identity theft, data breaches, and malware infections. Data breaches and failure to comply with stringent regulatory requirements can result in costly penalties. Therefore, cloud providers must implement the necessary technical, physical, and administrative safeguards to ensure that confidential patient data remains secure throughout the process of cloud migration and afterward.
Administrative safeguards cover the policies and procedures that must be in place to ensure the security of PHI. This includes ongoing risk assessments, employee training, contingency plans, and incident reporting. Physical safeguards include physically securing PHI - for example, by implementing facility access controls and enhancing workstation security. Technical safeguards protect the PHI as it is transmitted and stored.
While HIPAA does not explicitly highlight any required technology, it describes a series of standards that must be adhered to, including the implementation of access and audit controls and authentication. Organizations are therefore free to choose the most appropriate technology for their workflow.
While encryption is highlighted as “addressable” within HIPAA guidelines rather than “required,” it is fundamentally important to compliance. By encrypting electronic PHI, both at rest and in transit, thus adhering to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards, healthcare organizations guard their sensitive data against unauthorized access.
About the author
Dr. Rachael Bailey, Healthcare IT Content Consultant at Atlantic.Net is a graduate of the University of Chester and postgraduate of the University of Liverpool, with a Ph.D. in Gastroenterology and Cell Biology and a first-class degree in biomedical sciences. An experienced and passionate medical writer and an expert in writing scientific documents, regulatory-related documents, and articles discussing US healthcare and compliance. Rachael can be reached online at our company website https://www.atlantic.net/