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The Three Pillars of Health IT: Cloud, Mobile and Data

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It’s no surprise that healthcare is changing. The industry has been pushing for the digitization of patient health records for about 20 years, and as this comes to fruition, there is now an even greater opportunity for physicians to operate more efficiently. And with programs like Meaningful Use and outcome-based reimbursement quickly becoming a reality, harnessing the power of technology is becoming increasingly important. But it’s not one singular technology that is revolutionizing healthcare; rather, it’s the convergence of three: cloud, mobile and data.

The Foundation: Cloud

While the term “cloud” is likely familiar to most, only a minority of healthcare practitioners use it. Confusion still remains regarding what the “cloud” really is and how it fits into the everyday workflow of a physician’s office. Cloud systems are a cluster of resources – hardware, software and support – hosted and delivered from a remote location, with data warehoused outside the local user’s computers. Think of it as the foundation of your tech-savvy workflow. These systems are much more flexible and applicable across provider organizations than traditional systems that operate purely on software and on-site hardware.

And if you’re familiar with the cloud, you’re likely aware of the main concern related to it: data security. Given the constantly evolving regulations associated with HIPAA – not to mention possible legal ramifications if private information is wrongfully exposed – security concerns are understandable. However, most cloud-based systems store their data on massively scaled, redundant and hyper-secure systems that use high-grade SSL encryption, which are also used by major financial institutions and commercial vendors that also have a responsibility to safeguard client privacy. As long as practices work with a verifiable service provider, the benefits of using a cloud system will far outweigh the potential risks.

The Implement: Mobile

The rise of cloud computing has made it possible for mobile technologies to become an everyday resource for the healthcare industry. Even in its short time on the scene, the way in which mobile is being consumed has changed. Up until five years ago, mobile was synonymous with “cellular,” but now, tablets are playing just as vital a role. Technologies now exist that allow physicians to document patient records via tablets, meaning they are no longer bound to a stationary desktop or paper file. This makes their workflow more flexible and efficient, plus improves patient engagement.

Mobile is most certainly here to stay. A recent study from ABI Research noted that patients will begin using mobile health applications more regularly to share information with their medical providers. Mobile will allow practitioners to take full advantage of what their cloud-based systems have to offer, and it’s certainly a tool that patients are eager to use as well. The key is to use systems that are efficient as well as HIPAA compliant.

The Results: Data

While cloud and mobile technologies have a great impact on the daily operations of the healthcare industry, an opportunity to truly revolutionize healthcare lies with the data. This is the prevailing influence in health IT today. Even now, when physicians record patient information, it is often in the form of narratives that go nowhere because the data isn’t structured and is essentially trapped in a system akin to a word processor.

With the help of cloud and mobile, physicians can more easily access structured data that can be used to benefit specific patients and over time will likely even transcend one-to-one interactions to improve population health. Structured data can help physicians make informed decisions about the best course of treatment for a specific patient; furthermore, they can draw insights related to a disease at high levels across a whole population at the point of care. And as the industry starts shifting to outcome-based payments, big data will have to be used to measure patients’ progress or quality of care. This all contributes to the greater good, by providing outcome-based data that can then be used by the larger medical community.

It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare, and while it may seem like there’s a new health IT gadget, mandate or program emerging every day, in the end, the revolution boils down to cloud, mobile and data. Any practice can implement these technologies into their own workflow, and as more do so, the industry becomes more connected and better equipped to help patients in the long-term.