carloscastilla - Fotolia


The diverse use cases for cloud in healthcare

Healthcare cloud services come in various forms, including analytics models and system backups. Those are two of the reasons cloud has the attention of health IT professionals.

Today's healthcare CIOs are no longer just discussing shifting servers to the cloud; they are conversing with different internal departments to identify the biggest opportunities for their organization. There are several ways a healthcare facility stands to benefit from moving to the cloud. Hospitals or independent physicians can sign up for healthcare cloud services that are new to their businesses or shift some of their existing services to be hosted in the cloud.

Discussions around the use of cloud in healthcare used to center on software as a service for billing purposes, EHR and moving servers to the cloud. Cloud continued to evolve and many more services have been added to the menu. Now, the IT department isn't the only group of healthcare employees that are excited about the cloud. Clinicians, operational managers and executives recognize the potential value in cloud deployment.

Successful health IT executives have engaged their leadership team in the cloud conversation. Hospital employees have fewer concerns about the security of data stored in the cloud. Current cloud conversations are more about what services can improve the performance and outlook of the organization. Cloud vendors have done a good job of adding meaningful services to their portfolios, and they are now targeting more than just IT folks. Today's cloud offerings intend to address a number of different business problems, many of which are relevant to the healthcare industry. The following are some operational areas of concern in which providers can benefit from healthcare cloud services.

Target areas for cloud in healthcare

Compliance and data protection

Health IT leaders can use cloud services such as disaster recovery to ensure the availability of critical systems in case of an outage. These services help an organization meet some HIPAA requirements and are a cost-effective alternative to duplicate data centers. In addition, some cloud providers such as Microsoft and VMware introduced security aspects into their cloud products to assist users in protecting their data and help them meet regulatory requirements. Compliance monitoring, audit reporting and detection of unusual system or access behaviors are just a few examples of the security and compliance features offered by cloud providers.

Productivity suites

Emails, intranet sites, instant messaging, telephony and personal cloud storage are a few cloud services that are considered among the easiest to adopt. These services can be shifted to the cloud with very little interruption. Doing so reduces the burden of internal IT systems. Health IT executives find these offerings valuable as they present a simplified per-user cost model in which one monthly fee covers all user activity.

Data services

Healthcare organizations deal with a tremendous amount of data, generated by their internal clinical systems and received from outside entities. This unwieldy mountain of information has encouraged many organizations to consider cloud options for mining the information for meaningful insights and for providing them with an elastic and scalable environment where storage is more affordable and protected. Cloud providers can tailor different packages according to a hospital's data needs.


While storing data is useful, having access to services that can help manipulate and move the data is far more critical when it comes to cloud in healthcare. For that reason, health IT executives find it essential that their data integration tools and services let them create connections with other systems and allow their third-party partners to interact with their data even when it's hosted in the cloud.

Applications as a service

Cloud providers recognize the value of having an app store-type model within their environment. Both IT professionals and non-IT users can deploy comprehensive systems within a few minutes just by selecting the desired product from the cloud providers' marketplace. Examples of this include enterprise resource planning systems, billing systems, PACS platforms, interface engines and more.


This data explosion in healthcare and other industries, combined with advancements in analytics platforms, have created an incredible opportunity for data mining. Cloud providers can store their clients' data and they can offer powerful engines that can mine the data for insights using advanced algorithms and machine learning capabilities. In addition, business intelligence capabilities, such as interactive dashboards, encourage many businesses to look to these vendors as a quick and effective way to analyze their information without the need for significant upfront hardware and software investments. In the last few years, Microsoft introduced Azure Machine Learning Studio, Office Delve, Cortana Analytics, and Project Oxford. This shows how much potential major organizations such as Microsoft see for analytics in the cloud.

As more healthcare providers do business with cloud vendors, the providers must ensure the vendor offers comprehensive, trustworthy services that meet organizational goals and satisfy HIPAA requirements. The cloud may be easy to adopt, but it can also be very difficult to leave. That should be taken in consideration when evaluating the different services for cloud in healthcare.

Next Steps

Salesforce ventures into healthcare with cloud platform

Providers weigh cloud security and disaster recovery options

The challenges of hybrid cloud integrations

Dig Deeper on Healthcare IT systems and applications

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing