Cloud, Mobility and Healthcare: Docs and Patients Both Win

By Alex Brown

I recently spoke at the Up 2013 cloud computing conference in Santa Clara. The focus this year was on healthcare, and I gave a presentation about the virtuous cycle of cloud and mobility for the industry. It was future-focused and my presentation partner from Valence Health, Dan Blake, and I were pretty excited about it.

healthcareGood news was that some of the folks really seemed to light up about the opportunities for cloud to break down the current barriers to the free flow of information within the healthcare supply chain. And once those barriers are down (and I have to mention here that Windows Azure is HIPAA approved, so this really is possible), true telemedicine and telehealth paradigms are feasible. Additionally, doctors would have the capability to help control the spread of disease by analyzing data across worldwide patient populations.

But it was frustrating that there were few—if any—actual practitioners at the conference looking for ways to effect change. The bulk of the attendees were from the technology world, rather than the medical world. And maybe, in retrospect, that’s why it was only a few of the folks we spoke to who really felt the pull of the cloud as a path to innovation.

I know that in healthcare today, information is too hard to get when you need it. I have heard from many in the field that the transition to electronic medical records was a time-consuming nightmare. So what doctor that went through that bad experience would want to do it again? Clearly, doctors have been conditioned to feel that it’s too hard to apply new services.

Cloud is a breakthrough, though, and now the game has changed. Old vendors were proprietary, creating complexity to maintain control. But cloud is open and collaborative. What healthcare folks need to realize is that bad tech is in the past; cloud is in the future. And, guess what? The doctors are the people who need to stand up and rally for that change to come their way.  As pressure mounts to treat more patients and achieve better outcomes, technology is one of the levers that doctors have to achieve these seemingly opposing goals.

I think that as an industry, we in the tech field have done a poor job of communicating the possibility of painless change to the healthcare practitioners. It seems there’s a state of learned helplessness—people don’t even understand what would happen if the barriers to patient information were lowered and silos of practice- or even enterprise-specific electronic records were removed. Let me list a few examples of the near-term opportunities Dan and I touched on:

  • Complete longitudinal patient record from ambulatory, in-patient and ancillary settings
  • Integrated Electronic Medial Record (EMR) with near-real-time physiological monitoring data
  • Integrated longitudinal workflow across healthcare enterprises
  • Seamlessly integrated Personal Health Record (PHR)
  • Fully integrated provider-to-provider real-time messaging and voice/video conferencing
  • Social media-like patient-to-provider collaboration
  • Cross-enterprise patient-centric analytics and population health management

There is clear value in a disruptive force—aka, cloud—entering the market. But since practitioners are the ones that need to set and drive the new standard, if vendors want their solution to gain traction, they need to collaborate with tech-educated practitioners. And we need to provide that education: we need to help doctors and other practitioners understand that technology is their friend, even if it hasn’t been in the past.

Better patient care is the goal here, so how do tech and healthcare work together to make that goal a reality? I’m not sure I have the answers, but I’d be curious if anyone has any great ideas. As techies—and, truly, as patients ourselves—it is in everyone’s interest to generate demand for cloud in the healthcare marketplace.