Cloud computing is gaining momentum across several industry sectors, but has yet to be fully embraced by health care organizations due to privacy and integration concerns. Health care companies grappling with the decision to adopt cloud computing platforms have the unique challenges of patient privacy, and even more daunting, the integration of outdated legacy systems. The health care industry is cutting edge in many aspects, but often lags in IT.

Should health care organizations be able to overcome these challenges, cloud computing solutions will undoubtedly bring improvements across all spectrums of health care including patient care, cost reduction, productivity and efficiency. A survey, conducted by IT service provider CDW, discovered that many health care companies are reluctant to adopt cloud computing solutions because of privacy concerns and integration cost.

Although these are legitimate concerns, health care respondents to the survey also indicated excitement about the improvements that cloud computing could bring to the industry. Most health care organizations believe the greatest benefits of cloud implementation are improved clinical and quality outcomes related to the distribution and delivery of services.

While cloud computing models provide an exciting opportunity for health care IT personnel and management to modify their existing IT infrastructure, the barriers are significant.

The Challenges of Implementing Cloud Computing in a Health Care Environment

Security and Control – Data should be encrypted end to end, and be available to the right people through the correct channels. Greater administrative control and robust monitoring is mission critical and often hard to implement for cash-strapped health care organizations working on small IT budgets.

Infrastructure Complexity – Extra safeguards protecting patient data as required by HIPPA have caused health care IT infrastructures to be highly complex. Revamping internal systems can prove costly and difficult. Confidentiality, data backup, and recovery processes are just some of the challenges that must be addressed.

Legacy Applications – Many health care IT applications are highly specialized requiring a high level of customization in order for them to communicate seamlessly back and forth across platforms. While the perfect IT environment would have all specialty applications communicating succinctly through enterprise applications, it is not always possible. This means IT and health care administrators are burdened with tough choices regarding which applications to keep or retire.

Potential Health Care Benefits of Cloud Computing Integration

Supply Chain Management – Larger health care organizations derive much of their profits through retail and pharmaceutical profit centers and small business units. Using cloud solutions that allow seamless multiple vendor management and inventory management will make these operations much less complex than ever before.

Infrastructure Scalability – Cloud solutions will allow health care organizations to be more nimble and elastic in terms of their IT infrastructure. Growing organizations need to have a scalable yet dynamic infrastructure.

Partnerships – Cloud computing facilitates opportunities for health care organizations to partner with like-minded organizations that results in improved services for patients. These potential partnerships across the health care spectrum would cut down on red tape, costly mistakes, and time spent waiting.

Quick Access to Information – Much time is spent carting files back and forth all over the hospital. Imagine doctors and other health care providers possessing immediate access through their tablet or smart phone.

There are certainly valid concerns of implementing cloud-based IT solutions in the health care environment, but these obstacles should not outweigh the benefits of cloud computing. Cloud computing is still in its nascent stages and is bound to improve. While health care organizations are not yet fully embracing the new technology, the forecast certainly seems “cloudy.”