Scott Good| Forbes
Regulatory compliance for the healthcare industry is a hot-button issue. The overriding compliance requirements that this industry faces are dictated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), enacted by Congress in 1996. HIPAA was designed to protect the privacy of patients’ medical records and restrict who has access to them.
The latest HIPAA standards surrounding the security and privacy of patient data makes many in the healthcare industry understandably cautious about adopting new technologies. In the past, healthcare companies preferred to keep any electronic data concerning business operations and patient care behind a secure firewall. Now, HIPAA omnibus and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) requirements stipulate everyone in the healthcare industry begin migrating patient records and other data to cloud computing. Essentially, by 2015, all medical professionals with access to patient records must utilize electronic medical and health records (EMR and EHR), or face penalties.
A recent study by the firm MarketsandMarkets indicates that the healthcare cloud computing market, which is only currently about 4% of the industry, is expected to grow to nearly $5.4 billion by 2017. The cloud migration process, however, can be daunting for healthcare organizations since they have to move a ton of data.
Cloud Computing in the Healthcare Industry: Why It Works
Cloud computing and infrastructure security are continually evolving to meet the growing security requirements of heavily-regulated industries like healthcare. Legitimate cloud service providers have strict security protocols designed to comply with different regulatory mandates, including SEC, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and HIPAA.
Many cloud service providers have started offering HIPAA-specific compliant solutions. Healthcare service providers should verify that their chosen cloud service provider is HIPAA compliant before signing up for the service. If this information is not provided on the company’s website, call the sales or support line for more information.
Benefits of Cloud Computing for Healthcare Organizations
While privacy concerns have kept many healthcare organizations from migrating to a cloud computing solution, the cloud does offer major benefits to these providers.
- Security: Online medical records storage is the main reason for using cloud computing for most healthcare providers. With a recent HIPAA update, cloud service providers are now as liable for HIPAA compliance as the healthcare entities they serve. This includes ensuring that data is encrypted and securely backed up, verifying that data can be easily recovered, and using permission-based data access.
- Scalability: Unlike on-site hardware infrastructure, you can easily scale your cloud storage solution to manage ever-growing patient data. Healthcare service providers generally must keep records for at least six years. Considering the volume of patient data, the likelihood of this overwhelming any on-site IT infrastructure is inevitable. The leading providers of cloud computing, cloud server or storage solutions are able to adapt to your EMR/EHR load quickly and store terabytes of your patients’ data in secure, redundant cloud storage.
- Mobility: The increasing demand for physicians’ time often means they only have the opportunity to review patient records and tests or do research during evening hours. In the past, this meant being stuck in the office after hours. With cloud computing solutions, patient information is readily available. Now, doctors can quickly and easily pull up medical records remotely. This improves the physician’s ability to provide high-level care to patients. Patients see a reduction in the amount of paperwork that they need to fill out and the time and stress of disputing incorrect bills.
Cost Reduction: By adopting cloud-computing solutions, patients, physician’s practices, and medical organizations experience cost savings. The patient doesn’t have to endure paying for the same test twice when they go to different doctors or specialists or if the test results are lost. Physicians’ medical offices avoid paying for on-site hardware infrastructure and maintenance in order to securely store patient medical records. Add to that the costs of new software and updates to existing software programs and the required on-site IT personnel. Physicians are able to submit prescriptions and refills electronically to pharmacies. Cloud computing also increases the accuracy of reimbursement coding. According to a report by Healthcare Financial Management and depending on the scope and size of a healthcare organization, savings benefits of EMRs/EHRs can amount to upwards of $37 million over a five-year period.
- Sharing: Cloud computing solutions keep physicians connected with patients and their colleagues. Referrals to specialists happen in a timelier manner, and healthcare service providers can easily access complete patient history and information online. Again, repeat diagnostic tests are avoided, saving time, money, and patient stress.
Cloud service providers are now offering a variety of new ways to access information via cloud applications and microsites designed for mobile devices. To specifically address the needs of the healthcare industry, cloud service providers continue to improve technology platforms to improve lab order entry, pharmacy records management, medical billing, imaging service requests and more. Cloud companies must start offering HIPAA-compliant solutions if they wish to meet the demands of healthcare service providers that need cloud computing services.