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Data in the Clouds

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 13, 2010
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Web-based data sharing is one solution to the interoperability problem—the challenge of communication between healthcare providers, including physician's offices, hospitals, and specialty practices, which often have different computer and software setups and use a variety of external devices to store and share images. Because everything is online, it's easy to share simple health data such as patient test results and medical history, and it allows patients access to their records, as well. Cloud computing requires no special equipment—just a computer and an Internet connection.

But when it comes to medical imaging, the massive image files shared in picture archiving and communications systems can bog down even moderately speedy Internet connections during peak hours—and accessing large files via a dial-up connection is basically a hopeless prospect.

Enter the cloud, a form of Internet-based computing that allows users to share resources, software, and information on computers and other devices on demand.

In addition to being a common, easy-to-use platform that anybody can access, cloud computing has a number of other benefits. Users can share information seamlessly and in near-real time across devices and organizations. It is cost-effective—organizations only pay for what they use. And small physician practices, in particular, appreciate the fact that servers for data storage and management are off site.
Healthcare decision-makers are interested in cloud computing—two in five say they know at least a "fair amount" about cloud computing and 49% say their organization has used it, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Research for Microsoft. The most common use of cloud computing across all industries surveyed were collaboration (56%) and storage (48%).

A number of healthcare organizations, including Seattle Children's Hospital, South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, AK, and Community Memorial Hospital of Ventura, CA, are testing a new cloud-based technology for sharing imaging studies and reports. San Diego-based eMix is vendor-neutral (the organizations testing the system use a variety of PACS vendors) and uses the pay-as-you-go model.

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2 comments on "Data in the Clouds"


arthur williams, MD (11/15/2010 at 2:14 PM)
My partner and I head two hospitalists groups in the Boston area, one acute care, the other a rehab hospital. For years our handoff communications went through paper mail or fax. We were very diligent about communication. Even so, specialist from acute care settings and primary care physicians in the community complained that our group was like a black box – that they were not getting good communication about the care we were providing. The hospital even setup a physician portal so that any on-staff doctor could log in remotely and access their patient's information. But this "pull" model never caught on, as most doctors expect data to be "pushed" out to them. One of our new physicians suggested we look at Concentrica, which is an online network for secure clinical communication. This is free to physicians to communicate with each other. The national directory of physicians meant that we could quickly send to any physician, without having to know their fax or email. Like an online email system, recipients can reply and forward messages, so now we could get immediate feedback from colleagues in other locations, and in important cases, have a real dialog about patient care. The "Group Discussions" feature allows the specialist in town, the hospitalist, and the PCP to all join in an online dialog about one patient. The application works well on our smartphones. When our group wanted to send documents on our behalf, we upgraded to the subscription version, which cost less than paying someone in our office to fax the documents. There is an audit trail so we can see who received their messages. One feature we really liked was that if the message was not accessed online it was faxed, so we knew our clinical work was getting there. For our group it made it easy to communicate with other physicians, to get our documents out, gave a way for others to respond, and was cost effective. Arthur Williams, MD

Arman (11/13/2010 at 11:58 AM)
Another example of a leading cloud computing solution that is starting to become the standard among large IDNs and hospital chains is <a href="http://www.seemyradiology.com">SeeMyRadiology.com</a>. This platform uses innovations from social networking, cloud computing and mobile computing to deliver a truly comprehensive approach to <a href="http://www.seemyradiology.com/image-exchange-case-studies">medical image sharing</a>.