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A New Computing Environment

February 21, 2011
by John Degaspari
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Cost and Capability Issues at a Time of Rapid IT Change

Technological change is driving awareness of what it takes to function successfully during an era of healthcare reform

The vast changes taking place in healthcare today are as much cultural as technological, and the two have gone hand-in-hand in allowing providers to begin to make care delivery more patient-centric. Indeed, walls are coming down when it comes to providers exchanging patient information with each other, and in the ways physicians interact with their patients.

On the patient side, many of the tools that are driving changes are all around us, in the form of smartphones, iPads, and other personal computing devices, as well as social networking, which has served as a rallying point around specific health issues. On the provider side, technological developments such as cloud computing and software-on-demand models are encouraging networking between physician groups and hospitals and breaking down the cost of entry to electronic health records for smaller physician groups. Hospitals are also adapting to a world in which their clinicians are bringing personal handheld devices into work.


Mark Roman, president of the Falls Church, Va.-based CSC Healthcare Group, believes the healthcare industry is on the verge of a fundamental change in the way provider organizations communicate with their patients. “Today the infrastructure at many providers is hospital-centric as opposed to patient-centric,” he says. “Agility is a core issue that hospitals and insurance companies are going to face in the next few years.”

Accountable care legislation will require hospitals to be responsible for a patient's entire care, Roman says. This means having the ability to communicate with the patient via a variety of methods, whether through a home-based computer or any of a number of wireless devices, he says. The core challenge on the provider side is to have the flexibility to adapt to the patient's environment.

One example of that is social media, which Siki Giunta, vice president of cloud computing at CSC, believes will play a more prevalent role in healthcare. Social media give the patient a sense of comfort by putting him or her in touch with a community of people who have similar health issues, she says. Social media also provide an important tool for providers, which can address healthcare issues for multiple patients and communities, she adds.

The crowd-sourcing effect of social media creates a way for health information to move very fast, Giunta notes. It allows creation of general networks of wellness that will make healthcare more pointed and geared to understanding, she says. One of the key pieces of technology to support this is analytics, the ability to put the data into context. One of the biggest challenges is the ability to accommodate data in all of its disparate forms, according to Giunta.

Several experts point to cloud computing as an enabling technology that will grow in importance in the next few years. According to Giunta, the cloud offers a platform that can accommodate disparate types of information from various sources, accommodate multiple users, and has enough capacity to offer analytics.

Roman observes that the cloud also offers cash-strapped hospitals an affordable point of entry as a communication venue for patients and providers through social networks. “There is a good value proposition around care management, making information available and protecting the integrity of it,” says Roman. “Cloud is a critical technology that is going to shape how the healthcare community addresses some of these technologies and business issues in the future.”


Steve Bennett, chief technology officer of Concordant Inc., North Chelmsford, Mass., says health providers in the ambulatory space face several key infrastructure issues, for which the cloud is especially suited:

Rapid and cost-effective deployment of sustainable technologies. Once a practice has made its initial infrastructure investments, it must turn its focus on keeping it sustainable and useable for the long-term.

Security, compliance, and disaster, which can be particularly challenging when there are multiple constituents who are also competitors.

Reporting requirements necessary to qualify for reimbursements, can be challenging for small practices that lack sophisticated IT resources.

Interoperability among physicians who are affiliated with various types of organizations.

Paul conocenti
Paul Conocenti

“Cloud computing offers the ability to create a services-based utility and per usage applications. It's a model that should be embraced to be able to parse this out in a cost-effective, controlled and secured basis,” Bennett says. “It's for the retail market that can't afford the overhead, footprint, and infrastructure necessary to monitor traditional application architecture in the individual physician practice.”


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Just to add one more cloud evolution that's impacted the medical field:

As accessible as cloud computing makes electronic health records and health insurance information, there can be legal snafus that stand in the way, especially when it comes to HIPAA compliance. HIPAA has stringent guidelines medical professionals must abide by when handling private information, which is why a lot of medical services use online fax services to transmit patient information (you can read more about the guidelines & how online fax services meet them here http://www.faxcompare.com/who-still-faxes-healthcare). The development of cloud-based faxing has helped the medical field ditch fax machines and adhere to HIPAA's strict guidelines.