Leila Romane, head of public sector at German software company SAP, discusses the central role cloud platforms can play in healthcare digitalisation
Cloud platforms will inevitably play a critical role in the digitalisation of healthcare systems all over the world. Leila Romane, head of public sector at German software company SAP, discusses how these platforms can be deployed successfully – and the importance of doing so.
As the NHS continues to fight the second wave of Covid-19, digital health services – from video consultations, to eICU, to remote patient monitoring – have become critical for healthcare organisations managing the pandemic.
Access to actionable data on infection rates, disease symptoms, and hospital capacity is also key to these efforts.
We know the growing digitalisation of healthcare is essential if we are to fight the virus and that it will continue to play a central role in future public health issues.
Yet, in healthcare bodies across the UK, outdated IT infrastructure presents a roadblock to innovation, and risks the security of these increasingly important digital services.
It’s clear that now is the time for healthcare bodies to take steps towards ensuring the success of the long-term digital transformation of the NHS by investing in the right cloud platform.
Doing so will unlock the potential of digital innovations, while shoring up security.
Here’s why the cloud will play such an important role moving forward.
Power and interoperability
Firstly, the cloud offers a massive upgrade in computational power over on-premises IT.
Healthcare is data-intensive – from patient data to data generated by monitoring or capacity planning, vast quantities of data must be verified, stored, managed and analysed.
As services are digitalised and with the proliferation of IoT (Internet of Things) devices, this data will grow exponentially.
The cloud can provide health workers with real-time access and analysis of that data, on a scale unachievable with legacy systems.
Because data sets can be managed and shared easily via the cloud, data held by healthcare bodies can become more useful – potentially providing better insights into efficiencies that drive cost reductions, better patient outcomes, and more.
The cloud also makes these data sets more interoperable, meaning data is more easily shared – a key benefit that could reduce a significant amount of friction caused by hospitals or departments sharing health records, for instance.
When it comes to tackling mass-scale health issues like Covid-19, obesity or Alzheimer’s disease, having access to a deep and broad pool of data could be game-changing.
Security and regulatory compliance
Migrating healthcare IT to the cloud will also ensure better security.
While on-premise solutions require regular manual upgrade, cloud solutions allow IT security to be updated and maintained continuously and as needed.
Cyber security is an arms race – so innovations like cyber-attack-monitoring AI, for instance, may eventually be necessary to combat hackers who are also using machine learning tools.
Without the cloud, healthcare decision-makers will have to choose between upgrading on-premises infrastructure at both financial cost and the cost of service downtime, or making do with sub-optimal security.
The same can be said of the regulatory environment, as cloud infrastructure can be adjusted to comply with new regulations in moments, and application to all devices can be assured through automated rollout of new rules across the cloud infrastructure.
In addition, the cloud offers more reliable data storage over siloed, on-premises local drives that are vulnerable to loss, breaches or damage.
Innovation and scalability
Applications and digital health solutions can also be made faster, updated more regularly, and distributed more quickly if they are built on the cloud – encouraging healthcare providers to innovate.
Building these solutions on the cloud means they can also be scaled according to demand – a major benefit when transitioning from pilot schemes to national or regional ones.
This scalability and flexibility also extends to commercial aspects.
Cloud providers work via a running fee, rather than a lump sum investment.
As such, NHS bodies are not faced with the massive capital expenditure required for on-premises IT infrastructure that will inevitably age and degrade over time.
Developing a strategy for healthcare cloud platforms
Migrating infrastructure and services to the cloud is a complex task for any organisation, so it is worth seeking expert counsel on the details, and healthcare bodies should weigh a range of market providers before making any decisions.
However, there are some key points all healthcare organisations should consider when it comes to security.
First is encryption. Encryption makes data unusable for those who do not have verified access, so it should be the bedrock of any organisation’s data security capabilities.
Multi-factor authentication is another important security tool at your disposal – by preventing data access to persons using only single devices, it significantly reduces the risk of breaches using stolen or lost devices.
Secondly, within healthcare it is essential that data is accessible when it’s needed for treatment, so all healthcare bodies should set up redundant server infrastructure – distributed data centres that ensure both data and services are available to customers even if one data centre fails.
An added advantage of this is that, if necessary, one data centre can be updated, while the other carries the load.
Moreover, data can be used to drive employee wellbeing.
With smart data analytics tools such as Qualtrics, some UK councils are already able to measure employees’ wellbeing and needs by running regular ‘pulse checks’ on employees.
Better understanding health workers means healthcare leaders can make better decisions, and this is particularly important during a time of a pandemic where healthcare workers are facing additional pressures.
Finally, when it comes to digital health, the biggest vulnerability is the human behind the screen.
Hackers regularly get access to otherwise secure networks through simple phishing emails or wireless connections.
Comprehensive data management protocols and employee training programmes can mitigate the human risk factor.
At the same time as tightening security, better data training and protocols that encourage more accurate data logging and management will make its use more efficient and insightful.
Adapting to digitalisation via the cloud
The cloud provides solutions to many of the most pressing issues facing the NHS – from providing the power to store, manage and analyse vast quantities of data to improving flexibility and shoring up security.
For healthcare providers, the short and long-term benefits of digitalisation far outweigh the challenges.
The NHS is currently doing an awe-inspiring job of tackling its greatest challenge in generations, and it needs all the help it can get.
The healthcare sector, and technology providers like ourselves, must play our part in ensuring we can continue to support its essential services long into the future.