One of the most important ways that technology and communications networks are helping improve the state of healthcare is to make it easier for providers to work as a team instead of as individual practitioners operating in silos. Having access to the “cloud” is vital to this new teamwork approach. But you have to have the right cloud to deal with healthcare’s unique challenges.

Take medical imaging. It’s an important area in healthcare’s future – in more ways than one. As a non-invasive diagnostic tool, imaging is incredibly valuable, which is why it’s one of the most common services a doctor orders when evaluating a patient. And just like personal or home photos, medical imaging has shifted from analog to digital very quickly in the past few years.

That has meant exponential growth in the amount of data that must be stored. (Just to give you an idea of how much we’re talking about, Alabama-based Baptist Health System alone produces a new high-resolution medical image every 90 seconds, adding to the two million or so already on file.)And each image is enormous.

It’s no surprise, then, that roughly 73 percent of healthcare organizations plan to shift imaging data storage to the cloud, in some capacity, while 32 percent actively use some form of cloud solutions today, according to an Accenture study.

So far, so good. But consider the problems you have to solve now:

  1. How can care teams access images and reports quickly, while preserving clinical quality? The advantage of the cloud is that caregivers don’t have to wait for the images to download, instead they are simply accessing the images and the imaging reports from the cloud (think photo sharing websites, for example). By storing images using modest compression levels, the clinical quality of the images is maintained without impacting clinical diagnosis.
  2. How does everyone view images that are in proprietary formats if they don’t have a particular vendor’s equipment or software?  Even within the same provider organization, there may be several different systems, each producing images in proprietary formats.
  3. How will you ensure the right levels of security, privacy and record retention to comply with HIPAA and other regulations – especially as physicians adopt tablets and mobile medicine?

Unless you deal with all three of those technical issues – and in ways that solve the clinical need – you don’t have a truly useful cloud solution.

What do you think is critical in cloud?  What are other challenges that you see?

Stay tuned— In my next post, I’ll delve into how to deal with these issues.