The medical industry in all its forms has embraced the cloud in a number of manners as varied as the industry itself, from simply keeping patient information and histories in the cloud to using it for new drug discoveries, innovative medical treatments, and efficient storing, distribution, and analyzing of medical imaging and real-time data. Throw in the everyday operations management of medical facilities and employees within and the use of cloud computing in the medical industry grows even further.
Basic Record Keeping
Hospitals and medical practices in general are well-known for the sheer amounts of data created on each individual patient, from histories to procedures to medications to x-rays and charts to billing.
Up until the advent and facilitation of cloud computing this data was generally stored on-site in each facility and exchanging information between them posed constraints. For those facilities that have made the move to the cloud this information is easily accessed and distributed between the numerous and varied healthcare professionals involved in the patient’s treatment. This is especially helpful, as many times each provider is located in different places.
For large hospital facilities and the big data that is associated with them cloud hosting allows greater interconnectedness and information sharing. This is again extremely beneficial to, say, the specialist on one side of a large campus updating a chart upon receiving test results from a lab worker on the other side of the campus, all while the patient waits in yet another doctor’s office on the other side of the city. This remote capability and real time data exchange is revolutionizing record keeping in the industry.
Innovative and Life Saving Treatments for Less Money in Less Time
Using cloud computing for data storage and transferal is one thing but the cloud is having greater, more far-reaching impacts in treatment as well.
Due to the nature of the cloud, companies are able to rent substantial computer resources on an hourly basis at a cost that can be considered favorable, especially relative to what it would cost an enterprise to expend the financial resources necessary to purchase the hard and software and people power to do it on their own.
This new-found ability to analyze enormous amounts of data is impacting many industries, health care notwithstanding.
At Seattle Children’s Hospital in Seattle, WA, craniofacial surgeons have used the cloud to treat adolescent patients who suffer from prematurely fused skulls.
According to Dr. Michael Cunningham, Medical Director of the hospital’s Craniofacial Center, “The biggest obvious consequence of having craniosynostosis is that your head shape gets very abnormal and it increases the pressure inside the skull, having potential to damage the brain.”
As study of the disease has been furthered, researchers have concluded that craniosynostosis may be caused by a genetic irregularity in bone cells and how they interact with other bone cells. But for Dr. Cunningham this information, while useful, simply wasn’t enough.
Further research involving what amounted to voluminous amounts of cloud-stored data helped doctors identify those patients with similarities in the composition and make-up of cells. While enormous, researchers were able to quickly collect, crunch, analyze, and sequence the information in a shred of the time it would have once taken and at a fraction of the cost, especially if Dr. Cunningham was responsible for doing it alone.
“It’s the first thing that’s ever been found that really gives us a clue as to where to look in terms of underlying cause,” Cunningham says.
Diagnostic concerns are also utilizing the cloud to good effect and companies are putting vast amounts of cancer tissue data into the cloud in order to expedite diagnoses, something that is obviously of great import in this facet of medicine.
As doctors submit new or unknown cancerous tissue samples to these companies who in turn put the sample into their cloud databases, high-probability diagnoses are returned in as little as one day.
Quicker, Less Expensive R&D Translates to Less Expensive Drugs
Other research-heavy enterprises like pharmaceutical concerns are also turning to the cloud to better their output and bottom line.
Matt Wood, a Scientific and Technical head for a well-known cloud service provider states, “We have customers that are running very large-scale drug discovery pipelines.” He cites one example of a customer whose needs necessitated running a virtual screening of 21 million chemical compounds, something that in the past would have taken a large amount of time and money to accomplish.
“So you can imagine 50,000 laptops running this experiment. They didn’t have to buy or provision or manage or cool or power any of those laptops, or set them up. They could just provision what they needed at a scale that they needed it,” Wood says.
Instead, due to utilization of cloud computing, the entire experiment took about three hours at a cost of just over $14,000 as opposed to the potential years and millions of dollars the project would have expended had Mr. Wood decided to do it in-house.
“So it really is transformative in the way that it can accelerate the drug discovery process, in the way that it can accelerate the scientific discovery process,” Wood says.
And when information is stored on the cloud, collaboration between researchers becomes all the more easier and effective.
According to Dr. Stephen Friend, president of the non-profit, Seattle-based research institute Sage Bionetworks, states that even in the otherwise ultra-competitive world of pharmaceuticals rival enterprises have an increased incentive to exchange information and ideas.
“They’re trying to develop their drugs for lower cost, and so pharmaceutical companies love the de-risking that occurs by having much of the data be available for everyone to look at,” Friend says.
It is predicted that the global cloud computing marketplace will reach $5.41 billion by 2017, representing a 20% increase since 2012. Within the greater healthcare market cloud computing will grow from a four percent share to over 20% by 2017 as well with ever-increasing numbers of healthcare organizations expected to make the jump to the cloud in the next five years.