It could also be the field most in need of the pluses brought to the table by the emerging technology to fully leverage other key advancements appearing on the horizon. Take, for instance, the estimated gains of Electronic Health Records. Improved patient care via sharing of records and treatment histories and collaboration among medical professionals would be expedited with the capabilities of cloud computing.
Many industry experts point to an entire health-industry information ecosystem — anchored by EHRs — in secured cloud-based environments.
Mark Knickrehm, global managing director of Accenture’s Health Practice, said the cloud offers potentially “sweeping” changes. Knickrehm said he also expects an increase in the digitization of health information such as images and test results, along with more integration of mobile devices and cloud-based applications.
The day when a doctor or patient can call up an X-ray image or medical history stored in the cloud on the latest handheld tablet PC might not be a thing of the future for much longer, thanks to the rise of cloud computing.
“We have moved well beyond the question of whether cloud computing will become fundamental in the health industry over the next decade,” Knickrehm said. “It will.”
Now, health industry leaders should assess how their organizations will meet financial goals and benefits for patients using cloud, he said, and figure out how to “seize those rising opportunities alongside existing systems in a blended and pragmatic approach.”
Two themes tend to arise when discussing cloud computing and federal healthcare: storage — the increased amount of information stored on centralized servers, and savings — the more cost-efficient data retrieval options available to healthcare providers and researchers.
“Consumers and providers will be able to reap multiple benefits, including enhanced access to health information and more efficient, higher-quality patient care,” she said.
“The federal government has actively supported the development and use of cloud computing,” King added. “In fact, the December 2010 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology concluded that ‘cloud computing solutions … might allow 80 percent of physicians who are nondigital to leapfrog some of the existing challenges of EHR systems.’”
Northrop Grumman has already begun developing forward-thinking cloud-based solutions for the government.
King points to the firm’s development of the “MyHealtheVet Mobile Blue Button App” — the first application for mobile devices for veterans to receive their personal health information. Northrop Grumman is also working on new technologies that will, as King describes, “enable real-time digitization and analysis of clinical data, while we deliver the advanced computing capabilities needed to increase health information access and improve overall health system performance.”
Still, the most important aspect of these rapidly developing technologies is the direct correlation to the ultimate beneficiaries — the patients.
Helene Fisher, vice president of federal healthcare solutions at ACS, a Xerox Company, noted the opportunity agencies will have to shift funding focuses from “back-room” efforts and issues to patient care, where it can better serve those in need.
“The quicker governments adopt and integrate cloud computing, the quicker they can move dollars to patient care,” she said. “Cloud computing will help transform patient care — not by providing on-the-ground care, but [by] allowing for more dollars to be diverted to more personalized care, while improving the efficiency of back-office services, such as billing and medical records.”
Scott Gaydos, CTO of federal healthcare for HP U.S. Public Sector, echoed Fisher’s sentiments.
“Through the successful deployment of cloud technologies, agencies are better equipped to control costs associated with the proliferation of IT, consolidation of IT assets and the optimization of IT security spending,” he said. “For federal healthcare CIOs, this allows the shift from managing IT services as a cost center to leveraging IT services as a federal healthcare growth enabler.”
Specifically, Gaydos saw a shift in resources from traditional IT management to the creation and delivery of consumer-centered services, such as navigating veteran benefits, and providing deeper patient access to EHRs. He also projected further development of telehealth options giving agencies the ability to concentrate IT resources on delivering direct value to their beneficiaries.
Therein lies the challenge for healthcare-solution-providing government contractors: help agencies use the cloud to their (and their patients’) advantage.
Although broad advancements in healthcare IT have been seemingly limited, at least in part because of a public skepticism of the security guarantees and the potentially devastating fallout of widespread EHR data breaches, the positives continue to mount exponentially.
With cloud computing becoming a more concrete part of the discussion, the government-contracting industry can only expect this to continue. ♦