Healthcare industry aspires for cloud nine

08 Jul 2015

There is a surge of interest among healthcare institutions in cloud computing and data analytics. The large scale implementation of these technologies will mean that the sector will never be the same again.

The healthcare industry, one of India’s largest and fastest growing industries, is contributing significantly to the growth of the IT sector. In 2015, the healthcare providers are expected to spend $1.2 billion on IT products and services—this represents an increase of 7% over the industry’s spend in 2014, according to Gartner. The industry is trying to reinvent itself by implementing IT solutions that not only improve productivity, but also bring the healthcare delivery models closer to the patients. According to IBEL (India Brand Equity Foundation), the overall healthcare market in India is worth $65 billion.

“IT services, which include consulting, implementation, IT outsourcing and business process outsourcing, will be the largest overall spending category through 2019 within the healthcare providers sector,” says Dr. Anurag Gupta, Research VP, Gartner. “It is expected to reach $317 million in 2015, up from $295 million in 2014. The consulting segment is growing at 11%.”

The Cloud Effect on Healthcare
Peter Mueller, Senior Analyst, Forrester, is of the view that the healthcare industry has historically operated with traditional IT systems and it has been rather slow in adopting new technology, but change is now on the way, with technologies like cloud computing and analytics making their impact on the ways by which healthcare is accessed and provided. “Through handheld
devices, analytics and connectivity, virtual teams can access patients or consumers based in remote areas,” says Mueller. “It is easier for healthcare providers to extend their reach to rural areas by deploying telemedicine.”

Mueller adds that in a vast country like India, it is important for healthcare companies to leverage cloud technologies. Through the use of secure and proven cloud platforms, companies can share data across the entire enterprise, resulting in faster decision making and better quality of healthcare.

Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, CIO, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd., says, “At Apollo Hospitals, we consider technology to be a strategic element of our healthcare delivery model. Our solutions for eICUs, Tele Health, Patient Health record on the cloud, interconnected Hospital information system, and mHealth enabled disease management initiatives, are giving us extremely positive results.” Sivaramakrishnan informs that the HIS is on private cloud and it serves all branches of Apollo hospital in the country. Close to 7000 beds are there under a single system. Such a cloud based deployment of HIS means that all hospitals in the group can enjoy a wide degree of standardisation in their operational processes and in the implementation of various clinical

“We have put Patient Health Records (PHR), which goes by the name of Apollo Prism, on the cloud,” informs Sivaramakrishnan. “This is not merely a results disbursement system but an online health diary.” Through this system, the patients can chart their entire set of health related activities at Apollo. For getting a holistic picture, they can even upload scanned copies of the reports from healthcare institutions other than Apollo. “This system is very fruitful for enabling us to remain in touch with our patients.”

The cloud is increasingly becoming a valid option for healthcare organisations, which are in need of developing a better integration between their various establishments and with their patients. Cloud systems make it easy to share information, run various applications, and it is also scalable and reliable. Arvind Sivaramakrishnan is of the view that before deploying a cloud solution, the organisations must conduct a through evaluation of all the possible options. The healthcare data is rarely standardised, it is often fragmented—at times, it is generated on legacy IT systems, which might be incompatible with the new cloud systems. “Good planning is must for the successful deployment of any technology, including cloud,” asserts Sivaramakrishnan.

The Movement to Cloud
Arun Shetty, Director of Collaboration Solutions – India, Avaya, says, ”With the adoption of cloud solutions, data sits at the heart of data centres and can be accessed whenever and wherever required. However, it has been observed that there are very few healthcare providers in India who are using cloud services. The reason for fewer cloud deployments can be blamed on issues
relate to data security, privacy. It is an issue of the practitioner’s need for ease of access to information versus the organisation’s need to have better privacy and security controls. Also, the heavy investments made on HIMS (Healthcare and Information Management System), the customisation and integration of this platform with the IT Infra, including computing, network and voice and video systems, can be one of the reasons for slower adoption of cloud.”

He is of the view that when the Indian Government is taking initiatives like Smart City and Digital India, there is going to be a large scale digitisation in the economy and this will lead to ‘Connected Healthcare’ becoming a reality. He says that through connected healthcare, it can be ensured that the Electronic Patient Records are available to the relevant medical practitioners. Public health professionals will be able to access medical information with due safeguards from anywhere. At the core of “Connected Healthcare”, there always is an efficient cloud based system.

Most healthcare providers have a website, but in many cases the website is not optimised for delivering information on a variety of devices. So someone accessing the website through his mobile device may have a rather poor experience. As the security related aspects are not fully thought through, both the care providers and the consumers are often reluctant to share their data through the online systems. Srinivas Padmanabharao, Director, Product Marketing, APJ, Akamai Technologies, says, “As healthcare institutions adopt cloud technologies, they also need to pay attention to improving the design of their website. They need to invest in making the customer interaction channels on their websites more user friendly and secure.”

Padmanabharao is of the view that cloud has the potential to revolutionise healthcare by moving the “power centre” away from the healthcare provider to the consumer. “The change that cloud can bring to the healthcare sector is somewhat similar to the change that eCommerce is bringing to the ways by which people buy or sell.” Practo has adopted Akamai solution to develop a consolidated platform for allowing its consumers to access a wide array of healthcare options. The adoption of Akamai solution has led to a 100 percent improvement in the performance of Practo’s website—in three months the conversions have increased by almost 50%.”

On the subject of what cloud model can be ideal for healthcare institutions, Santhosh D’ Souza, Director- Systems Engineer, NetApp Marketing & Services Pvt. Ltd., India, says, “Healthcare industry should go in for private cloud infrastructure, which ensures that the data protection, security, and regulatory compliance requirements can be shared across many departments. If a healthcare organisation opts for a hybrid cloud platform, it can benefit from a considerably more flexible, powerful, and cost-effective IT infrastructure.”

Analytics for Managing Healthcare Data
In today’s business, data is the most important ingredient. The healthcare sector generates massive amounts of data, but in raw form this data can only have limited value. Analytics can play an important role in converting raw data into usable information. A study conducted by IBM’s Institute of Business Value shows analytics is already being used by healthcare companies across the globe—out of the Healthcare & Life- Sciences respondents that are using Analytics, 55% are focusing on Operations, 37% are focusing on Customers (acquisition and improved service) and 8% are focusing on Finance.

David Bolton, Global Industry Solutions Director, Public Sector and Healthcare, Qlik, says, “Healthcare system in India is complex. With funding and administration undertaken by several levels of government, alongside non-government sectors, healthcare providers are under pressure to not only provide guidance on current data, but also remain transparent and accountable for their actions. As a result, the healthcare sector is generating data at an exponential rate on a daily basis.” He adds that the large volumes of data can’t be put to good use because many healthcare providers lack the technology for making sense out of the data. The challenge before the healthcare providers is in drawing actionable insights from all their data.
The budgetary concerns are the key obstacle in the way of BI adoption in healthcare enterprises. The upfront cost of BI implementation can range between $2 to $3 million—the enterprises need to spend over this amount to mine and maintain their data.

Puneet Gupta, Entrepreneur in Residence, SAP Labs India, says, “Data standards in healthcare are still work in progress— this fact is primarily responsible for hampering the interoperability of healthcare systems.” The existing laws for import of technology and taxes only serves the purpose of making BI costlier for Indian users. The lack of proper IP protection is also a problem. Then there is issue of the lack of trained manpower for running BI systems. Also there is uncertainty about the ROI that can be derived by deploying the technology in rural or semi-urban settings. Patient data security and privacy, and the issue of connectivity are also an area of concern.

Abhraneel Sarkar, Healthcare and Life-Sciences Industry Leader – IBM GBS Global Delivery India, says, “There are several barriers to technology driven transformation in healthcare industry in India. The diversity and geographical spread of the Indian rural population is the first challenge.”

Data Visualisation
On the subject of data visualisation, Bolton of Qlik says, “For effective management of epidemics, the accurate and timely analysis of data is critical. An analytics tool must be in a position to provide right information at the right time after shifting through the welter of data. By combining data from multiple government departments and private agencies, it is possible to predict the accurate location and the nature of the outbreaks.” He refers to the recent Ebola fear that gripped almost the entire world.

“In such cases, it is critical to gather as much data as possible so that the healthcare practitioners can take the right decisions for the deployment of resources.” With data visualisation, aid agencies can easily determine where to send medical staff. They can accurately predict the exact amount of resources that will be required to counter the threat of epidemic. It is also critical to gain a perspective on the potential of the epidemic to cross national borders and infect people in neighbouring countries and elsewhere on the globe. Tracking people movements from the affected regions involves the collating and analysis of diverse data sets from multiple organisations – border police, airlines, shipping and even mobile phone locations have to be taken into account and analysed.

Sarkar of IBM says, “The top healthcare institutions are already taking steps for deploying analytics for management of healthcare related issues. Systems are being deployed for acquiring diverse data-sets and analysing it for developing meaningful insights.” He informs that large healthcare institutions in USA are using IBM Watson cognitive system to help the nursing staff make quick decisions regarding the kind of treatment that must be given to a patient. The system provides responses in seconds.

Gupta of SAP Labs says, “In India, healthcare analytics is being looked at with lot of interest by various state governments. A large scale pilot has already been launched in a northern state to examine how this technology help in improving healthcare delivery.” The pilot was conducted by SAP in association with National Rural Health Mission to demonstrate the healthcare analytic capability of SAP Health Central. The pilot spanned over 3 months and required screening of over 65,000 children by 10 Health teams. The process of screening included disease profiling of the screened children to recognise epidemics and identify the focus regions for further initiatives. It provided deep insight into the disease patterns in the regions successfully.

Ma Foi Analytics is working with a leading Indian hospital chain for implementing an analytics solution that leads to improvement in the efficiency and efficacy of the nursing staff. The solution is designed for enabling the nurses to make informed decisions for staffing and scheduling. Satyakam Mohanty, CEO, Ma Foi Analytics, says, “Healthcare organisations should encourage adoption of such solutions, which do not not involve heavy investment, but still offer tangible business value.”

While the healthcare companies evaluate potential opportunities and risks around cloud computing and data analytics, they know that their competitors are also conducting similar evaluations. Some of them might quite possibly be adopting these technologies. During the next few years, the players who fail to move fast to implement the new technology solutions could as well find themselves loosing their customers and the market share.

This article appeared in Express Computer on 08 July 2015