Healthcare providers turning to cloud

April 13, 2012

While many industries are being radically transformed by the implementation of cloud technology, few are likely to see as much of an impact as the healthcare industry. Geoff Webb, a cloud computing expert, argues that no industry is more thoroughly entwined with IT than healthcare. The extreme sensitivity of the information it handles, and the urgent need for speed and security in the sharing of that information, makes the healthcare sector particularly well suited for taking advantage of the benefits offered by the cloud.

These suspicions were reinforced recently by a new study conducted by GBI Research. Referring to the cloud as "the next big thing" in healthcare IT, the report predicts that Hospital Information Systems (HIS) using the cloud will continue to grow in popularity in the future, leading to significant profits for the healthcare IT market as a whole. By using the cloud, HIS will allow hospitals and other healthcare providers to store their data on third-party servers, reducing both the space required for and money spent on data storage.

GBI Research expects healthcare providers to shift increasingly more of their data storage needs to cloud service providers for the next few years. Consequently, GBI anticipates the global healthcare IT market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 9.3 percent, ultimately reaching $20.5 billion by 2017.

However, this growth will not necessarily be entirely problem-free. Webb writes that while the cloud undoubtedly can provide a range of IT benefits for healthcare providers, those advantages come with serious security risks. The problem, he claims, is that many of the cloud's services, particularly data storage, are in a state of "organized chaos." The cloud service providers are able to offer scaled service to match the needs of a given business unit, group or individual, who can alter the specifications as needed. While this is advantageous for reducing costs and avoiding waste, it is also less structured than more traditional arrangements.

Additionally, the simple fact that files are stored on a third party's servers, rather than that of the healthcare provider, compliance issues may arise. As a number of HIPAA settlements have demonstrated, the federal government is reacting with greater severity to data breaches in which the healthcare provider was found to be negligent in its responsibilities to protect information in its possession.

Consequently, as healthcare providers move their operations into the cloud, it is crucial that they take extreme precautions to ensure the integrity of their cybersecurity. Only by training their IT departments and investing in cloud security software and other measures can they provide sufficient protection for their clients' information.

-McAfee Cloud Security