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A picture of health?

Article Type: Opinion          Published: 09-2015         Views: 2002      



From big data to wearable devices, Jack Bedell-Pearce, Managing Director of 4D-DC, summarises the key drivers - and top tips - for cloud adoption in the health sector

The landscape of healthcare in the UK has changed dramatically over the last few years. This is not only down to pharmaceutical developments that have enhanced how diseases and illnesses are tackled, such as the early detection of Parkinson’s Disease, the recent discovery of a root cause of asthma (CaSR) and the vaccines to protect against HPV, but also the advances made in technology that have helped to better equip the medical profession as a whole.

Ten years ago we were still talking about the migration to digital patient records but the advent of big data coupled with other technical advances such as mobile devices and adoption of the cloud mean that the healthcare market is taking another giant leap forward in how it develops treatment, cares for patients and supports those working across the health sector. So what are some of the key technological advancements that have helped to bring about this shift? According to IDC, the market for big data will reach $16.9 billion in 2015, growing six times faster than the overall IT market. For the healthcare sector that means a shift from simply diagnosing and treating illness to now being able to predict, anticipate and prevent illness.

In addition, a study by management consultants, PwC, estimates that mobile health could help cut healthcare costs by up to $400 billion across developed countries by 2017. When you consider the rapid adoption of mobile and wearable devices, that’s a promising sign of innovation across the sector. In October 2014 YouGov’s new wearables tracker research reported that 2.8m people in the UK alone own a wearable technology device, but that was likely to increase to 6.1m by September 2015.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director, indicated his support of wearables during an interview with The Guardian late last year , saying that a wearable device “enables you to predict things, to act early and to prevent unnecessary admissions, thereby not only taking a load off the NHS but, more importantly, actually keeping somebody safe and feeling good.”

With the proportion of worldwide IT-related spend predicted by Gartner to rise to $3.8tn this year you’ll struggle to meet a senior exec who hasn’t migrated some of their IT requirements to the cloud or at the very least seriously considered it. And that’s the same for the healthcare sector. As Barry Runyon, a research VP for Gartner, who focuses on the healthcare sector, recently commented, “Healthcare providers' growing infrastructure, system and support requirements - compounded by tight budgets and IT staffing issues - will continue to drive them toward a hybrid IT environment in which the cloud will play an increasing role.”

Runyon added that healthcare providers use cloud services for things like email, content management, medical image archiving, medical record systems, health information exchanges, portals, natural language processing, enterprise content management, secure texting, clinical collaboration, transcription services, mobile device management, analytics, legacy decommissioning, and disaster recovery.

"My sense is that a significant percentage of the healthcare providers' workload will move to the cloud in the next 5-10 years," Runyon said. "The healthcare provider has been taking measured steps toward the cloud over the past few years and while it hasn't embraced the cloud entirely, it has accepted the fact that it has its place and will play a bigger role in IT service delivery in the next few years as cloud service providers mature."

Despite increased Government spending on the NHS, budgets remain squeezed and with a UK population estimated to increase by 4.9 million by 2020 it’s little surprise that those in both the private healthcare sector and the NHS are looking to take steps that increase efficiencies while driving down costs. The reasons for adopting cloud in the healthcare sector range from:

• Lower maintenance costs
• Speed of deployment and minimal impact upon internal staff resourcing
• Senior executives are now more comfortable with cloud as a viable IT option
• Improved efficiencies and therefore reduced costs.

However, with all these smart connected devices, big data and real-time access to critical information comes a number of concerns for a sector such as healthcare. Predominantly data security and privacy are a huge concern, especially in such a heavily regulated market. So what should healthcare trusts and authorities be looking for when exploring whether a cloud infrastructure supports their needs?

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