Why can’t we have a Healthcare system in the “Cloud”?

For many years I have asked myself and other IT professionals, this question over and over and could not come up with a good enough answer. So, I finally decided to do my own research and find out what are the real reasons for Healthcare resisting to move in the Cloud.

I am sure that many of you (At least those living in the United States) have experienced the slowness and ineffectiveness of our Healthcare system. Changing insurance providers, switching personal care physicians, getting referrals and getting admitted at different facilities are still very tedious and time consuming tasks for all of us.

In fact, the consumers are also affected indirectly. By having to pay more money to insurance companies and hospitals to staff positions which primary functions are to deal with this informational/data and record retaining mess we all pay more than we should!

The Healthcare is a huge industry that needs to operate more efficiently and have a centralized infrastructure that allows for a quick exchange of data and safe retention of records. Hospitals, physicians, patients and insurance companies must be able to easily communicate and exchange data.

The obvious answer: Cloud Computing!

–          By using SaaS based solutions, hospitals can reduce their operational cost and spending, while improving service levels.

–          By using SaaS based solutions physicians can overcome the concern of not having dedicated IT staff to support and maintain their offices.

–          People are already familiar with Cloud Computing and use it every day in the office, on the go or at home. Most of them are using Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google Apps, WebMail etc. Why not give more power to the patients and convert them into “users” of the Healthcare system? Provide the patients with web access to their records, appointments, medical history and let them manage their own accounts.

–          Probably the biggest reason to switch to SaaS based Healthcare are the insurance companies. By using SaaS products the connectivity and the interaction between the insurance company, hospitals and patients will be so much easier, quicker and cheaper.

Yes, Yes, Yes but not so fast.

I have learned that things don’t necessarily change overnight when it comes down to technology and Healthcare. There are a lot of factors to consider when dealing with sensitive patient information.

–          Security: Data security is the biggest concern when it comes down to Cloud Computing. The fact that the data is stored in an off-site facility and that there is not much control over the backup and recovery of the data, make IT professionals nervous .

–          Customizations: Most hosted solutions are designed with simplicity in mind, so little or no training will be needed for the end-users. As a result of this simplicity, the SaaS products sometimes are not as feature rich as their locally installed counterparts.

–          Scalability: Some question the scalability for SaaS applications. Being able to scale for a small, medium or even a large medical office is probably not going to be a problem for most SaaS providers, but when you look at the big picture and you add large medical institutions like hospitals and their submarkets; Hospital IT, Ambulatory IT, Payroll IT, Drug Development, Cycle management and Patients, then software needs change.

–          Responsibility: Having multiple SaaS providers cover the needs of the Healthcare in the USA raises many questions about control and responsibility. Who will be responsible if things do not go as planned? Who will be to blame when records are lost or the system is down? How long will it take for outage to be fixed?  Who will be in control to decide what software changes are made throughout the hosted environment?

There are still a lot of unknowns and questions without definitive answers when it comes down to a centralized Cloud based Healthcare system. I don’t foresee a quick change in the way our Healthcare operates, but if I can give one advice to small medical institutions is to seriously evaluate different SaaS providers and solutions.