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.