CloudJune 20, 2024

Cloud computing in the healthcare industry: How is it shaping the future?

Find out more about how cloud computing is helping the healthcare industry deliver faster, more effective care for patients.
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Avatar Alex Smith

Cloud computing, which can be defined as the on-demand access to computing resources via the internet, has become one of the most significant innovations of recent years, with widespread adoption having taken place across a range of different industries. Traditionally, healthcare providers have been hesitant to rely on outside organizations for storing and managing their data due to the strict regulatory environment they operate within. Industries within Life Sciences, such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biotechnology, and their use of computerized systems, introduce inherent risks like security breaches, compliance failures and data integrity – requiring a cloud system where a risk-based approach is essential.   

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a game-changer and providers rapidly embraced technology in the face of extremely challenging circumstances, leading to a wave of innovation across the healthcare industry. Investments in cloud-based solutions have dramatically influenced the way providers diagnose, treat, and care for their patients, and it is a trend showing no sign of slowing down. Gartner’s 2023 CIO Agenda Insights for Healthcare Providers revealed that 45% of surveyed Chief Information Officers in the healthcare sector planned to increase funding for cloud platforms in 2023 compared to 2022, demonstrating the continuing commitment to developing and expanding cloud-based services.

Pharmaceutical drugs - cloud in healthcare industry - Dassault Systemes blog

But, how exactly is the technology being used in healthcare, and what impact is it having on both patients and providers?

How is the cloud being used in healthcare?

One use case of the cloud that became commonplace during the pandemic was telemedicine, which is the remote provision of clinical services. While the use of telemedicine was steadily growing before the pandemic, it became a necessity to maintain health services in times when patients were isolated. According to The State of Telehealth Before and After the Covid-19 Pandemicby Julia Shaver MD, telemedicine encounters in the USA increased by 766% in the first three months of the pandemic, demonstrating the enormous shift in the demands placed on healthcare providers.

1. Telemedicine

The cloud was integral to this boom in telemedicine, enabling patient data to be accessed remotely by their doctor to provide informed diagnoses and recommendations. The ability of the cloud to rapidly scale up its capcity also provided healthcare providers with the necessary infrastructure to meet the huge growth in demand for online services, preventing those services from becoming completely overwhelmed.

2. Electronic health records (EHRs)

Another area where the cloud is making a significant difference is in electronic health records (EHRs), which are digital versions of patients’ medical histories. While EHRs can be stored using on-premises servers, cloud-based systems can provide medical professionals access to patient information and the ability to communicate with other providers regardless of their location. Meanwhile, patients can more easily communicate with their providers to schedule appointments or request their prescription.

In turn, the data stored on the cloud can also be analyzed by cloud-based applications to produce patient insights and analytics. Healthcare professionals can then use these insights to inform them as they make diagnoses and carry out treatment. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies can use cloud applications to analyze the data they possess to produce insights which could help them identify possible avenues for further research.

3. Virtual twins

The cloud can power more sophisticated applications too. For example, it can provide a platform for the creation of virtual twins for healthcare and life sciences, which are highly accurate digital models of organs, bodily systems or even entire bodies. The cloud provides the necessary computing power to bring together the huge number of data points required for the creation of accurate virtual twins, which can then be used to simulate reactions to new drugs, rehearse complex surgeries, develop new products and even model the reaction of individual patients to potential treatments and surgeries.

What are the concerns about the cloud in healthcare?

Though it’s clear that cloud is making an impact in many aspects of the healthcare sector, some concerns about its use remain and are important for leaders in the industry to consider.

Privacy and security

Patients entrust healthcare providers with highly sensitive information about their personal health, placing an important responsibility on to those providers to keep that information private and secure. When placing that information on to the cloud, providers must therefore ensure that strong safeguards are in place to protect it from unauthorized access and theft.

To address this concern, healthcare organizations should be aware of the security measures put in place by their cloud providers to make sure that they provide the required levels of security.

Compliance

Healthcare providers are working within a highly regulated environment, due to the sensitivity of the data they are handling. Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the USA or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe determine the ways in which healthcare organizations are required to store, manage and protect patient data.

Healthcare organizations are, therefore, required to ensure that their cloud-based systems and applications comply with regulations. However, responsibility for compliance with regulations is shared with the cloud provider, with the extent of this shared responsibility depending on the agreement between the two organizations.

Healthcare organizations should, therefore, clearly identify the responsibilities they have and those that the cloud provider takes on. It is also important that they receive assurances on compliance with relevant regulations from a cloud provider when entering an agreement with them.

Benefits of adopting cloud in healthcare industry

If the above concerns are addressed, there are huge benefits that healthcare organizations can realize when they introduce the cloud into their operations. These gains can help providers deliver better care for their patients, and ultimately save lives.

Automated data processing

Healthcare providers must gather large amounts of data from all their patients to accurately diagnose and effectively treat their condition. Entering this data is often a laborious process that takes up a large amount of time that could be better spent treating patients. The power of the cloud enables data processing to be automated more easily and efficiently, saving physicians valuable time.

Reduces risk of data loss

Responsible cloud providers have the latest security technology protecting their platforms, with a level of investment in expertise and infrastructure that individual healthcare providers would not typically be able to match. Unlike most on-premises systems, data is also spread across multiple data centers, ensuring that no single point of failure could result in data being lost in the case of disaster.

Accelerates treatment of patients

The cloud provides fast and easy access to data and analysis to help medical professionals understand their patient’s condition and diagnose it accurately. This enables them to act more quickly in beginning an appropriate treatment, saving time that can prove to make a huge difference in clinical outcomes.

Precision medicine

Precision medicine tailors medical decisions and treatments to the individual patient based on their predicted response. The cloud and services like virtual twins for precision medicine, provides the necessary access to data and rapid analysis of a patient’s health record to enable informed decision-making about which treatment would be best for an individual, potentially delivering more effective treatment.

Greater collaboration

Cloud-based platforms such as Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE® platform on the cloud provide a single source of truth to healthcare professionals which they can update and respond to in real-time, no matter where they are. This enables collaboration between the many different parties that might be involved in a patient’s care, allowing for a smoother patient experience. Furthermore, data can be shared with experts from across the world when their advice is needed in a challenging case.

Examples of using the cloud in healthcare

There are several initiatives that demonstrate how the cloud can be used to great effect in healthcare. The Living Heart Project, for example, is a research project that is aiming to help develop more effective cardiovascular products and treatments. To achieve this, the project is developing accurate, personalized digital heart models, with the help of a wide range of experts in cardiovascular health and the wider healthcare sector. The models developed by the project will be used to create a unified foundation for cardiovascular in silico medicine, providing a common technology base for further developments. This could help develop new medical devices, aid in education and training, improve testing and clinical diagnosis and help guide regulation, among many other potential applications.

The Living Heart Model itself is powered by Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud, allowing it to now be used worldwide to create new ways to design and test devices and drug treatments. Use of this virtual model can enable faster development and approval of effective new treatments for heart disease – the world’s leading cause of death.

The 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud has also enabled French-American digital health company Biomedex to create 3D virtual models of blood vessels and organs using imaging scans and other diagnostic information. These models are then 3D printed using biomechanical responsive advanced materials to create a patient-specific ‘cartridge’, which can then be inserted into the simulation system for a physician to carry out a lifelike procedure.  

This has allowed students at Rennes University Hospital, a leading center for interventional neuroradiology, to rehearse complex procedures that they see performed at the center.

“Using the models for pre-procedural rehearsals allows us to know in advance if an approach is going to work and, if not, helps us to determine which medical device would be more effective,” said Dr. Anthony Le Bras, interventional neuroradiologist at CHU Rennes. “This not only boosts physician confidence, but also reduces operating times and decreases the risk of complications during the real procedure.”

Embracing cloud solutions in healthcare

The cloud is now an integral part of many healthcare providers’ digital infrastructure, providing a platform for more efficient and more effective treatment and care. With careful consideration and management of the sensitive data involved, new applications powered by platforms such as Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE can be hugely valuable tools for medical professionals. The capabilities they offer will enable providers to transform the way they work and redefine healthcare.

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