How Cloud Technology Can Help Solve Data Interoperability Challenges in Healthcare

Alina Dolbenska
Writer

No spoilers, COVID-19 has changed the way businesses operate and deliver services to consumers. Healthcare was one of the most obvious industries that needed to react immediately. To cover patient needs and manage masses of data, which has fallen on doctors’ heads, many facilities  moved from in-house hosting to cloud computing. And it worked well. 

Since the prompt exchange of information among hospitals and between patients and doctors is a must, data and system interoperability is important. The ability of different systems to communicate with each other contributes to higher productivity, better patient care, fewer failures and cost-efficiency. But before healthcare entities reap the rewards, they have to address certain challenges. So, let’s take a look at which aspects matter on the way to data interoperability. 

Challenges companies face on their way to interoperability

Data interoperability doesn’t arrive on a silver platter. To achieve this level of connection between different IT infrastructure, healthcare companies go through a few stages, and each poses challenges.

Managing contradictory data from various sources

Like no other industry, healthcare deals with exceptionally complex data. It comes in different ways, from different places, is structured or unstructured, digitised or non-digitised, and it’s updated every minute. Previously, finding a certain data point in this uncontrollable mess was a heroic deed, so companies needed a powerful tool to sort things out. 

Validating electronic patient information requests

With the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), the number of data sources increased and it became harder to validate data. In addition, as patients’ private information is confidential, EHR provider approval is not enough to reveal data as soon as it’s requested. How do providers know when processing patient information sharing is legitimate? It’s still an ongoing question.

Employing specialists to deal with data interoperability challenges is expensive

Imagine the amount of work the people who manage healthcare data get. Let alone the skill required. Pay rates are accordingly high, and hiring a specialist to work on data interoperability isn’t always easy given the data professional talent shortage. 

Data accessibility has become a must

In the US, the 2021 Cures Act means that healthcare data must be made available when requested. If you can’t provide this level of accessibility, your facility can be considered to be ‘blocking information’ and even fined. EHR certification is an outdated way to keep up with the Final Rule of the updated Cures Act — “health organisations can't interfere with the access, exchange or use of electronic health information” —  so providers need to find another way to follow the regulations. 

How the cloud-native approach addresses interoperability challenges

cloud for healthcare

A cloud-native approach is the answer to various business issues: from long and tiring development and marketing to expensive digital product releases and maintenance. But how can acloud-native strategy address healthcare data interoperability? We’ve figured it out for you.

A comprehensive overview of each patient

Cloud technology can simplify data collection, storage, management, and access. And by automating data collection and sorting, cloud technologies can help reduce the issues that come hand in hand with controlling the continuous flow of information, while cloud-native architecture ensures scalability and helps prevent system crashes. With given features, providers have access to all existing medical data about a patient, which builds a more comprehensive image of the patient’s health.

Lower IT expenses

Cloud computing means moving away from physical storage hardware, so expenses for fixing or maintaining infrastructure no longer exist. Moreover, due to fully automated data operations and self-service configuration, businesses don’t have to hire a whole team of IT specialists; the cloud vendor takes care of it.

Advanced technologies

To keep up to date and provide the best possible experience to patients, any healthcare facility needs access to the latest technologies, like advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and natural language processing (NLP). In the case of healthcare, these technologies can support decision-making and help medical service providers identify patients' needs more accurately. Nowadays most cloud vendors, like AWS, Azure, GCP, IBM, and others offer these tools in their environments, so healthcare companies have fewer steps to take when implementing advanced technologies.

Scalability

Cloud-based platforms are easy to scale up and down, so you can adjust your IT resources to satisfy changes in demand whenever needed. Covid-19 showed us that an ability to adapt to different conditions is vital for every business, and since health is among the most basic of human needs, healthcare providers have to be always ready to change.

Accessibility

Reaching the information you need easily is one more benefit cloud computing brings to healthcare. With cloud-based solutions, data can be accessed from any device via the internet, and all information is backed up by the cloud provider so it’s not lost.

Technologies to improve data interoperability

So, cloud computing rocks and it can help you with data interoperability requirements, it’s clear. But sure enough, there must be other technologies healthcare providers can use to resolve and prevent any possible failures with data management. We will introduce to you three key tools to drive your interoperability. 

Cloud-based Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Since EHRs appeared as a must, healthcare facilities can choose between cloud-based or server-based EHRs. The difference between them seems simple, but the consequences of choosing the older technology can be huge.

Cloud-based EHR systems operate on external servers and data can be accessed from any device via the internet, while server-based EHR systems involve personal servers. Owners of the latter often face issues financing and maintaining their IT infrastructure, that’s why many people today view the implementation of EHRs as something requiring lots of money and effort. Cloud-based EHRs, in turn, resolve many of these issues

  • No need for hardware or software installation since cloud-based EHR is managed by an external provider.
  • Because there is no hardware set-up required and a pay-per-use model, healthcare facilities save on capital expenditure.
  • A cloud service provider installs, configures, tests, runs, secures, and updates hardware and software, which means fewer in-house IT specialists are required. 
  • Greater accessibility than server-based EHRs: doctors and patients can connect via any external server.
  • Cloud-based EHRs are easily scaled. 

APIs

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a software intermediary that connects two or more applications. Cloud APIs build a bridge between us, cloud applications and services, converting the data they gather and presenting it in an understandable way via an application. 

For instance, Health for iOS and CommonHealth for Android use APIs to gather patient health data and present it in one place, including user data from wearable devices and health apps. In much the same way, dedicated healthcare APIs optimise interoperability and help manage data flow, which simplifies the exchange of patient health information between doctors and facilitates diagnostic processes. 

Cloud fax

Many hospitals can’t still get away from faxes, even though this technology is outdated and requires excessive time and resources. Just think about it: to send a single report, doctors have to print, sign, scan and only then send the document. 

Cloud faxing takes that tedious process away and cuts all operations to just one action: send. As a result, doctors can send and receive faxes, and access older documents with ease thanks to cloud technologies. Apart from that, you don’t need any specific hardware for cloud fax. As  all the data is stored in the cloud, all you need is a PC or a mobile device and a stable wifi connection. Remember that old machine that jammed, and required lots of paper and a repairperson nearby? With cloud solutions, it has become a thing of the past. 

The security issue

Healthcare deals with highly private data. So it’s no  surprise that with cloud technologies, which offer more opportunities for data sharing, both clinics and patients are worried about an information leakage. That’s why there are data regulations any cloud solution must comply with. 

HIPAA

Since 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures security, validity, and accessibility of all electronically protected health information in the US. Before a platform can store and use healthcare data, it’s supposed to have performed a comprehensive HIPAA-compliant risk analysis and have received HIPAA certification. 

GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) operates in Europe, and all healthcare apps on European Union territory have to comply. Businesses must take responsibility under GDPR for identifying if their own structures, as well as those of their partners and vendors, are GDPR-compliant, or they may face substantial fines.

CCPA

The California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) is a US alternative to the GDPR. According to this law, all patients must be informed about the use and storage of their personal data, providers must give individuals a free report of all collected information when asked, and also delete this at the patient’s request.

NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a framework to help companies detect cyber-attacks and provide guidelines on how to minimise, fight, and recover from incidents. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) is widely regarded as the gold standard for developing data and server security plans. 

How do cloud-based platforms ensure data protection?

There are three key technologies used in cloud computing for data protection: data encryption, identity and access management (IAM), and firewall. 

Data encryption refers to turning data into a code or a row of numbers, so that only authorised users can access it. That means, even in the case of a successful attack, cyber-terrorists can’t comprehend the data unless they also hold the decryption key (which is highly unlikely). 

IAM identifies users and restricts or gives access to certain users to make changes to the overall system, as well as dictating who can access what data. This technology may use a few services for identification: 

  • Single sign-on (SSO) allows users to sign-in with the same ID to different platforms
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires two or more verification methods (phone number and email, for example)
  • Access control verifies multiple login identities, such as log ins, PINs, or biometrics, to identify a user
  • Identity providers (IdP) are services that manages identity information for a provider

A cloud firewall, in turn, creates an “armour coat’ around the cloud, by restricting dangerous online traffic. It uses a set of rules to detect whether traffic is harmful or not. Most firewalls can be customised by administrators, so you can create your own regulations for access.  

The first steps to make cloud technology work for operability

Now when we look back at all of the benefits of cloud computing in healthcare and how it enables better data interoperability, the main question is how you can adopt cloud technology so that it works correctly.

MadAppGang specialises in cloud-based platforms and has  experience in working on healthcare projects. We’d be happy to work on your solution’s interoperability and help you embrace cloud technologies. So, if you need assistance, just one click and we’re in.