In my last post, I posed the question: Can the cloud move to the mainstream in healthcare?
In the second part of this 2-part series, I’ll talk about five promising benefits that make cloud more than a daydream for medical imaging, focusing on how the cloud:
- Allows providers to use data to create a more patient-centric system
- Offers a cost- and resource-efficient solution
- Helps provide state-of-the-art HIPAA- and HITECH-compliant security
- Enables mobility for clinicians to provide virtually anywhere-anytime access
- Presents a realistic solution to address Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements
Letting providers use data to create a more patient-centric system
Most PACS (Picture Archive Communications Systems) use proprietary software that makes sharing medical images challenging, even within an organization. With older PACS, accessing, viewing, and annotating images can be slow due to higher-resolution images crowding the network or the difficulty of accessing images that are archived in budget-friendly storage systems, like backup tapes. The cloud is a practical solution to help alleviate congested networks, allowing PACS to better communicate with one another while eliminating the need for hard-to-access storage.
Cost and resource efficiencies
Most cloud providers offer a scalable, pay-as-you-go model, so healthcare organizations only pay for the storage and computing power they require. Also, the cloud centralizes IT management of medical imaging systems, including upgrades, backups, and support for disaster recovery and business continuity – making an already stretched IT staff more efficient. Furthermore, the cloud can save money over time, as it reduces capital costs for data storage hardware that eventually has to be replaced, and it also extends the life of PACS and other infrastructure investments.
State-of-the-art HIPAA- and HITECH-compliant security
The shift to electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs) brings with it a set of security challenges. The HIPAA Security Rule requires that providers establish access and transmission safeguards to help ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic health information. In case of a disaster, the Security Rule requires regularly tested contingency plans.
Meanwhile, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) extends HIPAA security standards to providers’ business associates and entitles patients to electronic copies of their health information. Cloud solutions help ease the burden on IT staff while implementing and enforcing a common framework for security, encryption, audit, and retention policies and requirements.
Allowing for mobility
With a cloud-based solution, healthcare professionals can access medical images from anywhere at any time, with any mobile device, without the need to wait for someone to send images to them.
A realistic solution to address Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements
Federal Stage 2 criteria for meaningful use, which is still under review and goes into effect in 2014, propose improved exchange of and access to information, including medical images, through patient-facing websites, EHRs and HIEs. For example, the proposed rule specifies that more than 40 percent of scans and images must be accessible through EHRs, and 10 percent of images must be transmitted in HIEs. And, more than 50 percent of patients must be encouraged to access a summary of their treatment online within four days, with more than 10 percent of patients actually doing so. Stage 2 criteria encourage integration of medical imaging into EHRs and HIEs by making “imaging” one of five menu objectives, of which three must be met to receive meaningful use funding. With its ability to connect users to electronic information any time, anywhere, the cloud is a practical solution to help organizations meet Stage 2 deadlines for imaging access for providers and patients.
To gain clarity, get your head in the cloud
The landscape is daunting, shadowed with security, cost and privacy concerns. But for many healthcare organizations, cloud-based solutions are shedding some light on the situation, with flexible and customizable systems.