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Opportunities galore for healthcare on the Cloud

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CIOL Bureau
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Ravikumar Getting on to the cloud will bring to the healthcare segment opportunities in the areas such as decision support system, terminology services, medication management, medical knowledge mash-ups, clinical research, medical networks and more, say Ravickumar Murugesan, head, SCM & Tools and Dr. Brian Cohen, chief technology officer at healthcare IT company iSOFT, in an interview to CIOL.

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With IT today moving from being an add-on to a necessity in healthcare, how would you describe the scene in India, in comparison with the world?

Healthcare is one of the largest sectors in India in terms of revenue and employment. This sector is expanding rapidly with more than 80 per cent of private sector investment. There is enormous opportunity for significant growth with the private sector spending potential. The increase in demand is due to the increase in population and expanding middle-class segment.

On the other hand, the current situation is that there is a rise in infectious and chronic diseases warranting more control management through information technology. So far India has not kept pace with the infrastructure advancement in healthcare in comparison with the other parts of the world.

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There are many institutions in India that have realized the importance of IT to deliver high quality healthcare to a significant number of residents and for healthcare tourists. With increase in demand and investment potential from both private and public segments it is likely to take-off in the coming years.

Do you think the cost factor is a deterrent in this scenario?

Adoption of any new technology requires a huge initial investment and by the time the technology matures the cost factor will reduce shortening the RoI period. There are several other challenges like skilled resources to manage and maintain these technologies, etc, which could contribute to the investment requirement.

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India has always been a sensitive market when it comes to cost and high costs have always been a very crucial factor for technology adoption. But now the healthcare scenario is slowly changing and the providers have begun to understand that cost cannot be compromised when it comes to enabling vital IT systems for hospitals or to provide a structured organizational network.

The global industry is now talking of moving to the cloud. What is your take on this? What are the advantages the cloud would offer?

Cloud has several advantages over regular software delivery mechanisms. It provides users with access to virtual super computing environment which can scale to huge transaction volumes. With the right implementation, cloud computing can be the best option to grow capacity, deliver desired performance, and with high degree of fault tolerance, all without the knowledge of the underlying infrastructure. This approach also eliminates the need to maintain one or many large data centers and saves on the capitalization of assets.

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As an enterprise healthcare solutions provider who needs to publish services in the cloud, a lot of security aspects need to be thought through. Data needs to be secure both while in transmission and in storage (especially considering storage is not fully controlled). So, apart from application security like encryption, etc we need to ensure that the cloud infrastructure vendor has the right blend of regulatory compliance and security models.

iSOFT’s Lorenzo already exists as a huge private cloud network in the NHS, UK and is running through a single data center. In due course, there will be one copy of Lorenzo running through the entire UK. Meanwhile, eHIS is supporting the armed forces hospitals network in Oman through satellite facilities.

In a recessionary environment, what is in store for companies moving towards the cloud?

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Infrastructure saving is one of the most important areas during the recessionary environment since ‘Software as a Service’ model can bring significant savings over the traditional deployment model. Interestingly, the virtualization technology had proved its benefit in maximizing the infrastructural utilization and Storage as a Service (StaaS) model has gained its popularity in recent times.

The cloud can bring all of this together and offers the flexibility to choose from a variety of the combinations with private, public and external cloud. This will give the enterprise the edge in reducing their operating cost to rework their offering price to sustain their sales.

Could you elaborate on the kind of compliance and security requirements that need to be in place for healthcare providers to adopt public cloud?

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Irrespective of the sector, the security and compliance are common when it comes to cloud. From basic access to the information that is in cloud to how it is consumed needs to be assessed before venturing in.

The cloud model demands an additional security and data protection especially for the healthcare industry. Data transfer between a local client and a remote server needs to be secured. Data privacy is a huge challenge, especially due to government regulation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Many countries have policies regarding record-keeping, including the physical location of medical data. With all these challenges the adoption of cloud in healthcare industry has a long way to go forward in that space.

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It is necessary to make healthcare cloud globally connected in the IT scenario. For that, a considerable amount of resources, responsibility and expertise are required in order to drive standardization, collaboration and better patient care. Being the leader in healthcare IT iSOFT needs to create a consortium to drive these standards along with partners involved.

What is the market opportunity for cloud services in healthcare globally and in India?

There are many opportunities that cloud can offer for healthcare, especially in the areas like decision support system, terminology services, medication management, medical knowledge mashups, clinical research, medical networks, etc.

The concerns here are whether the hospitals and clinics will be satisfied if their important data is stored offsite. In India, some major players in the field are looking to build their own private networks. Theoretically, the definition of the cloud is to cover availability anywhere within a particular organization’s network.

Initially, private cloud is more likely to be adopted compared to public cloud where the hospital has to share the data externally. The concept needs to be developed further in countries outside the US. Providing world-class solutions along with increased value of the organization’s goal will be crucial in the Indian market.

What are your plans for the Indian market, specific to cloud offerings?

When it comes to India the current healthcare focus is only in the urban areas which are riding the modernization wave in healthcare. With the current increase in usage and availability of technologies like telecommunication, networks, etc, the focus has to be shifted to more remote/rural community healthcare which will increase the scope of our offerings and services through cloud.

Although iSOFT does not have a cloud service currently, we want to be an early entrant in the field by offering high-quality software at an available cost. iSOFT is aiming to launch cloud computing services this year. Our products eHIS and Lorenzo are thin client browser-based applications which can be easily cloud enabled. We are in the process of building one or two reference sites. Once we can prove the benefits of cloud computing in India, we will launch and market our cloud services aggressively in the global market.

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