Two medical staff look at a tablet in a medical setting.
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How cloud computing addresses healthcare’s data needs

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6 Mins.

For healthcare organizations, linking data from multiple sources – while maintaining stringent levels of data security and privacy – remains a critical challenge. But cloud-based solutions are increasingly the key to addressing that need.

The digitization of patient records is the most visible sign of the drive for digital transformation in healthcare. But even this massive undertaking only represents one aspect of the challenge of transformation for the sector.

In Germany, for example, the Hospital Future Act (KHZG) is setting a digital course for hospitals and related healthcare organizations for years to come. The legislation requires that 15% of the funds made available for any project are dedicated to improving information security.1 This in recognition of the potential vulnerabilities – as well as the many advantages – that flow from digitalization. IT security measures for hospitals have an industry-specific standard (in German, “Branchenspezifischer Sicherheitsstandard,” or B3S for short) which is compulsory for critical infrastructure institutions and also provides a guiding framework for non-critical institutions.

Such moves anticipate that, in the near future, a large number of healthcare data sources will need to be linked together. It will no longer be enough to keep information within the bounds of individual organizations (e.g. in data centers). Rather, data will need to be made increasingly available to authorized parties from central data storage hubs. Most experts argue that the only way this can be achieved is through a platform approach that involves the widespread use of cloud computing technology.

The benefits of data residing in the cloud

A doctor in a laboratory looks at a tablet.

IT departments within individual organizations can face real challenges when implementing the standards required to fulfill this vision for healthcare. Not only must cloud computing services in tightly regulated industries, such as healthcare, be able to store and transfer data in encrypted form securely, but they must also be able to process data in a legally compliant manner if they are to harness the benefits arising from digitalization. Building in this “security by design” demands a high level of expertise that many hospitals will struggle to achieve. 

A further challenge is that some healthcare regulations leave it up to the healthcare provider to work out if their implementation meets the requirements of the law. This creates the risk that a provider may be unintentionally non-compliant.

Holistic cloud security solutions, delivered by specialists, take some of this burden off healthcare IT staff, enabling team members to focus on supporting their organization’s core services. There are also wider advantages that such solutions deliver for the management of healthcare data. Cloud-based approaches prevent information silos from forming in individual organizations. Instead, these approaches promote information-sharing and make data available across a range of different interfaces. This is a feature that has benefits for individual patient data as well as for clinical research, where healthcare organizations can collaborate through a shared healthcare cloud computing platform.

Using a data- or software-as-a-service model means the development costs of the underlying capability are shared across multiple organizations. The services are designed to be highly scalable to meet provider’s changing needs. The approach helps to address the ongoing problem of IT staff shortages faced by healthcare providers. And, critically, it addresses concerns around the implementation and maintenance of high security standards by entrusting this to their cloud partner.

As a specialist in IT security, secunet offers products and services designed to protect digital transformation in healthcare. Its solutions implement the high security standards of Germany’s healthcare regulations, with features designed specifically to allow secure connection to government-run health services and complementary organizations. Its offerings are also based on open standards, which offers appropriate levels of transparency to regulators.

Waves of digital innovation

Doctor using a tablet in a medical setting

Whilst the benefits of digitalization are yet to be fully realized in healthcare, it is important not to lose sight of the even bigger prizes that digitalization could bring further down the line. Current compliance requirements mean that many IT systems are still operated on hospital sites, even when some data storage is distributed and virtualized. However, we are quickly moving toward a world in which local and central data is combined and used in innovative ways, with data linked together from different sources to meet a range of purposes.

New concepts are being tested. For example, “trusted cloud” infrastructure aims to securely tie together different spheres of activity such as medical networks and technologies, evaluation analysis, and robotics, to create platforms from which new applications can be developed.

“Federated machine learning” is another concept being explored. This allows algorithms to be trained on data that is held across multiple data sets, without the need for any data to be exchanged. This would greatly expand the potential for machine learning in the medical sector.

Clearly, digital innovation will arrive in more than one wave over the coming years.

The patient experience

Exciting though these developments may be, it is important not to lose sight of the goal of all this transformational activity.

“The diagnosis is clear – as is the treatment: only a modern, digital, and sovereign infrastructure and the networking of numerous data sources and medical equipment will take the strain off hospitals and improve treatment options“
Torsten Redlich
Head of Business Development and Deputy Head of the eHealth division at secunet

Digitalization in medicine is not an end in itself: pandemic events, demographic change, acute skills shortages, challenging pathologies, and optimized treatment all demand the optimization of operational performance from clinics – around the clock. However, administrative and care processes will only work if practitioners have seamless, on-demand access to the medical data and applications they need.

At the end of the day, this is what is critical for patient care, and it seems quite clear that many of the future solutions will lie in the cloud.

  1. Krankenhauszukunftsgesetz (KHZG), KHGZ, 2022

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