Cloud computing is a flexible solution that allows hospitals to leverage a network of remotely accessible servers where they can store large volumes of data in a secure environment that is maintained by IT professionals. Since the introduction of the EMR mandate, health care organizations across the United States have adopted cloud computing solutions as a means of storing and protecting patient EMRs.

According to BCC research, the global healthcare cloud computing market is expected to hit $35 billion by 2022, with an annualized growth rate of 11.6%. Despite that, 69% of respondents in a 2018 survey indicated that the hospital they worked at did not have a plan for moving existing data centers to the cloud. To help you decide whether your organization should be updating your data storage practices this year, here are the nine most important benefits of cloud computing in healthcare.

Cloud Computing Enables Efficient Storage of Electronic Medical Records

The federal mandate for electronic medical records which took effect on January 1st, 2014, was signed into law as part of the American Recovery and Reinvesment Act. The mandate requires hospitals and health care facilities to demonstrate meaningful use of electronic medical records for storing information about patient interactions. The stated goals of meaningful use are to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of medical services, to engage patients and family, improve the coordination of care, and to maintain patient privacy and security.

Today, the majority of hospital and health care facilities have abandoned the practice of paper record-keeping when it comes to health records. Electronic health records are stored in the cloud and updated electronically by physicians, nurses and other health care providers.

Cloud Computing Streamline Collaborative Patient Care

The implementation of cloud storage for electronic medical records has streamlined the process of collaborative patient care in America. Cloud-based medical records have made it easier for doctors to collaboratively view or share a patient’s medical records. In the past, a patient might have a separate file for medical records at each doctor they visit – some records at their family doctor, some kept by a dentist, some at one specialist’s office and some at another.

The widespread use of cloud-based patient care documentation makes it easier for doctors to share information with each other, see the results of interactions between other physicians and the patient and provide care that wholly considers what the patient has experienced with other doctors in the past.

Cloud Computing Decreases Data Storage Costs

Cloud computing describes the practice of implementing remote servers hosted on the internet to storage, manage and process data, rather than establishing an on-site data center with servers or hosting the data on a personal computer. Establishing on-site storing requires an up-front investment in hardware – you’ll need to purchase hard drives to store data on and additional IT infrastructure to keep that data secure and accessible.

Providers of cloud computing solutions handle the administration, construction and maintenance of cloud data storage services, enabling health care providers to reduce their up-front costs and focus their efforts on the things they do best: caring for patients.

Cloud Computer Offers Superior Data Security

In the past, physicians who used filing cabinets to store reams of patient records faced significant risk of data theft or damage. Paper records are easily lost or stolen, and could be completely destroyed by a flood, fire or another natural disaster. The lack of security surrounding these documents was a significant risk to patient safety.

Once the EMR mandate was established, health care providers could establish their own on-site data storage infrastructure, but again that would require the retention of IT staff that are knowledgeable in data security to ensure that patient data was protected.

As an alternative, health care providers have been able to outsource data storage and security to HIPAA-compliant cloud storage services. These services provide data storage of patient EMRs that complies with legally mandated requirements for data security and privacy. Cloud computing has helped to ensure that every health care provider can access a data storage solution that will adequately protect patient’s sensitive information.

Cloud-based Data Storage Makes Way for Big Data Applications

The widespread adoption of cloud-based data storage solutions in health care has created new opportunities for big data applications to improve patient care outcomes.

In the past, doctors all over the United States kept their patient records in paper files. There was always a huge volume of potentially useful data in patient EMRs – data that could used to predict when an epidemic might occur, to detect subtle correlations in patient illnesses that could reveal the causes of disease or to elucidate which treatment options were the most effective for a set of symptoms.

With the introduction of cloud computing, all of the data that was previously inaccessible in filing cabinets can be searched through and analyzed using the most complex computer algorithms available. This will enable health care providers to detect and respond to public health threats that would previously have been invisible until much later in their life cycle.

Cloud Computing Offers Flexibility and Scales Easily

Beyond the immediate economic advantages associated with choosing cloud computing over an in-house data storage solution, organizations benefit in the long-term from easier upgrades and reduced scaling costs when it comes to cloud-based storage. Providers of cloud storage solutions for health care use economics of scale to drive down data management costs for their customers – hospitals and health care facilities.

Cloud computing offers additional flexibility through the typical pay-as-you-go cost structure associated with data storage. When health care facilities build their own data storage solutions, they must estimate how much capacity they need and invest their own money to increase that capacity as they begin to run out of storage space. With cloud-based solutions, a simple call to your service provider is all that’s needed to expand your data storage capacity to the levels you need. Cloud-computing is a fully scale-able solution that can expand in unison with your business.

Cloud Computing Enhances Patient Safety

Cloud-based EMRs can play a significant role in enhancing patient safety. A mentally ill patient in California visited various hospital emergency rooms and walk-in clinics hundreds of times over the course of a year, each time submitting to tests and hoping to obtain prescriptions for medication. Thanks to the adoption of EMR, health care providers at each facility the patient visited could glean direct insight into interactions between the patient and physicians at other facilities.

This protected the patient from being over-prescribed medications that could have caused her serious harm and saved the hospitals significant money, as they were able to avoid subjecting the patient to testing that she had recently conducted at other facilities.

Cloud Computing Will Enhance Medical Research

In the same way that cloud computing will enable health care providers to leverage big data and analytics in administration of their facilities, medical researchers of the future will benefit significantly from the digitization of health care information through cloud-based data storage.

In addition to the accumulation of massive data sets, the cloud allows medical researchers to leverage huge amounts of computing power that were previously inaccessible. As recently as 2005, a medical researcher who wanted to analyze a large data set would have to request time at one of the nation’s supercomputing centers, waiting weeks on a waiting list before getting their chance.

With the cloud, researchers can leverage supercomputer-like analytical power on their own time, and at a fraction of the cost.

Cloud Computing Will Drive Data Interoperability 

As we move into the next decade of develop in digital health, interoperability between connected medical devices and the various systems and applications that store patient data will become an increasingly prominent issue. A growing number of product developers are building IoT-enabled devices for the health care industry, and without an accepted standard for communication and data transfer between devices, we’re missing out on many of the benefits of a connected health care environment.

As developers work towards a world where wearable connected devices, mobile health applications and electronic health records can interface freely, facilitating rapid data transfer and analysis that drives patient care outcomes, cloud computing will provide the primary platform for the storage and maintenance of all that data. Organizations that expand their cloud capabilities today will be able to effectively adapt to the changing landscape of health care in the coming years.