We’ve all heard the term “cloud computing”, but I think very few people have taken the time to discover what the term actually means. “Cloud Computing” is certainly a buzz-word and can be found all over the internet. Unfortunately, the definition appears to be whatever marketing needs it to be for the sake of advertising.
In the most basic terms, cloud computing refers to services provided over the internet. These services may include software-as-a-service (Saas), applications online that are accessed from a web browser, such as Google Docs and Adobe Buzzword where the software and data are stored somewhere other than your machine, and hardware services like Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) which provide on demand, sizable storage solutions.
Key benefits to cloud computing are obvious and include access to applications and data anywhere, anytime and instant scalability based on demand. If you don’t think access to information is important, then ask yourself why laptops and mobile phones are so popular. We all want access to our information and we all want it now.
Cost containment is also an important to consider over time as upgrades to hardware and software would become a thing of the past in a cloud computing model. Think of the advantage of always having access to the latest version of your pharmacy platform, or being able to access important patient information from any location or from any device regardless of platform. Cross platform development would not be necessary if my understanding of the “cloud” as being operating system neutral is accurate. Google doesn’t seem to mind whether you use Linux or Windows to access their wonderful applications (Google Docs, Google Scholar, Picasa, etc). What about expansion? Remember, this model is scalable on demand based on need and is a key component of cloud computing.
Utilization of cloud computing for healthcare could also go a long way in eliminating issues with integration. Many hospital systems are made up of different applications designed to function in a particularly limited environment (i.e. Pharmacy, Nursing, Radiology, ED, etc). This approach is often referred to as the “best of” approach and creates many difficulties for complete integration throughout the facility. There are entire departments within a healthcare system dedicated to making these “best of” applications speak to each other. Interface development is a constant battle as information is pushed and pulled from one system to another. A cloud computing model eliminates the need for interfaces as all the information is stored in a centralized location (i.e. “the cloud”). Data generated by pharmacy is easily viewable by nursing or physicians without the need for another new interface. The information is simply viewed via a web based browser. The system no longer has to move data packets from one location to another. What a wonderful world that would be.
The cloud computing model is ideally suited as a solution for the current dilemma of a universally acceptable Electronic Health Record (HER). Data generated in one location is easily accessible from anywhere, making data available to outside sources when necessary for patient care. I am of course referring to access to these records in emergencies for hospitalization or by pharmacies on the other side of the world attempting to fill a prescription for a vacationing patron.
Of course, not everything about cloud computing is sunshine and roses. Downsides to cloud computing include reliability, performance and security. Even one hour of downtime can be disastrous to a pharmacy, and performance is always important as even the slightest slowdown can affect patient care. Having immediate access to information is directly tied to performance. Anyone that has ever had a slow internet connection can relate. Security is a central concern as the cloud would house millions of sensitive data packets floating around in space. However, as technology improves so does reliability, performance, and security. These three things are not new to IT departments and are issues regardless of location.
I see the future in pharmacy and the future is some form of cloud computing. Only time will tell if that model exists now or has yet to be developed. I look forward to developing theses systems as I think we can all benefit from them. Good luck.