By Don Martin
mHealth, cloud computing and the “Internet of Things” – these are just a few of the IT terms every healthcare executive should know, according to a recent article by Managed Healthcare Executive. Don Martin, VP and Technology Practice Lead of Novia Strategies, contributed to this article (see his quotes on pages 3 and 6). Here, he expands upon two buzzwords he thinks should be foremost in every healthcare executive’s mind.
Cloud computing may not be a healthcare IT buzzword yet, but will likely become one over the next couple of years. The exponential growth in healthcare data brought on by EMR and similar data-promulgating systems will create great demand for more robust data storage, access and distribution capabilities.
As I mentioned in the article, developing a thorough knowledge and appreciation for both the risks and benefits available from cloud computing will position technology leaders in your organization to adopt and manage your “Big Data” more effectively and economically.
So what is cloud computing?
Cloud computing stores, processes and distributes data, including healthcare data, across a network of Internet-hosted servers rather than on a local-based server or a personal computer.
In essence, cloud computing allows hospitals and healthcare systems to leverage this available large-scale capability to store and manage its “Big Data” and releases the organization from the need to develop and manage server and supporting infrastructure internally. In addition, the fact that cloud computing provides authorized users with on-demand access to health data anytime and at any place generates significant end-user satisfaction and efficiencies.
All this comes with a risk though: By virtue of sharing “cloud space” alongside other organizations, the healthcare provider in essence releases control over its data, including PHI data. Importantly, major cloud computing vendors provide HIPAA-compliant technology services, and in many cases, can do so more consistently and reliably than an individual healthcare organization. This means that your MIS or IT director must carefully evaluate vendors and select one based on their demonstrated ability to manage regulated data using best practices, including data encryption practices, availability of private as well as public (i.e., multi-tenancy) cloud services, data breach and threat detection monitoring systems.
Mobile health (or mHealth) remains a rather young concept – one that is fast evolving in the industry as a recognized tool to increase healthcare efficiencies. Understanding the vast potential of clinical and consumer applications along with how to best determine the end goal of measuring better health outcomes continues the evolution and popularity of mHealth.
As with every other facet of our daily lives, our ability to selectively collect and transform the abundance of health-related data available to us through our mobile devices into information that is meaningful and actionable is the key to promoting and sustaining our health and wellness, as I commented in the article.
So what is mHealth?
Mobile health is the accessibility and exchange of clinical and consumer health information via wireless networks, to and from personal laptops, tablets, phones and embedded medical devices.
Mobile health has many constituents, and therefore, many applications and meanings. The sophisticated tools, such as wireless networks and mobile devices, are familiar and available to most all of us – thus creating the “buzz”. However the applications and information streams they support span many different directions and serve many different purposes.
The expectation is that as individuals continue the transition from patient to healthcare consumer, mobile health will burgeon. So what does this mean to you? More and more of your patients will use wellness and fitness mHealth applications, such as FitBits and WebMD. They will interrogate consumer information regarding the quality of your hospital or the satisfaction with your physicians. And they will expect mobile applications that make healthcare easier, such as ease of communication between patient and caregiver, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and intervention for those who are housebound or living in remote or rural locations.
Similarly, caregivers themselves will expect mHealth applications and devices that enable them to access patient clinical data outside the hospital, clinic or office setting, as well as devices that allow them to remain connected with and care for their patients regardless of proximity.
Accessibility comes with its own risks though, particularly surrounding the security and integrity of the wireless networks and mobile devices carrying and receiving personal health information. This includes the dynamic tension between supporting the much-needed connectivity and exchange of health information between consumers and caregivers, and protecting the integrity and security of that same health information. This is particularly challenging for IT professionals in a healthcare setting, who must track and manage the distribution and security of data to hundreds of devices in the hands of providers.
The full article is available on Managed Healthcare Executive’s website.