Healthcare bites the cloud pill

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Monalisa Sen | Updated: Dec 3 2012, 08:08am hrs
Technology is bringing about a fundamental change in the way healthcare is delivered. For evidence, look at Max Super Specialty Hospital in south Delhi where a significant portion of patient records are now electronic with minimal usage of paper charts. A comprehensive electronic patient health record, computerised physician ordering, bar coded medication, clinical alerts and reminders, and other such innovations are helping the hospitals doctors and paramedics deliver the highest level of care to its patients.

To put it boldly, science fiction yesterday is evolving into reality today and hinting at tomorrows possibility. Doctors at the Max facility actually receive pertinent, evidence-based alerts and reminders as they enter electronic orders for their patients to maximise point of care safety processes for medication administration. Net result: more lives saved from life-threatening conditions and lesser complications due to medical errors.

This turnaround in healthcare has quickly given the Max brand an instant global recognition too. It is the first hospital in India and only sixth in Asia to achieve Stage 6 on the electronic medical record (EMR) adoption model from Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a Chicago-based organisation focused on the optimal use of IT in the healthcare industry. The EMR adoption model identifies the levels of electronic medical record capabilities ranging from limited ancillary department systems for laboratory, radiology and pharmacy (Stage 1) through a paperless hospital environment (Stage 7). Maxs innovative use of technology has been instrumental in enhancing the quality of patient care, says Sid Nair, vice-president and global head, healthcare, Dell Services.

As Max Healthcares technology partner since September 2009, Dell Services manages all IT operations for Max Healthcare, including infrastructure management, datacentre hosting, applications portfolio management, project management office, clinical transformation and implementation of electronic health record (EHR). In September 2010, Dell Services converted the IT infrastructure of all Max Healthcare facilities into a private multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) cloud, running remotely from Dell Services datacentre in Noida. This cloud infrastructure made Max Healthcare one of the most technologically advanced healthcare chains in India. As Max Healthcare adds more hospitals to their network, the cloud deployment gives a near plug-and-play capability for IT deployment.

Down south, the hospital information systems (HIS) application for Narayana Hrudayalaya is completely deployed on the cloud. An infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution from HCL Infosystems is being deployed across 22 Narayana Hrudalaya hospitals and has been already rolled out in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jamshedpur and Jaipur. The other centres are in the process of being hooked up to the central system.

Truth be told, adoption of IT has become one of the top priorities for the Indian healthcare providers. IT is being implemented in various departments of the hospitals, ranging from billing and finance to administration and even patient care. But most big healthcare organisations allocate only 2-3% of their annual budget to IT expenditure. These percentages when calculated on a lower base seem insignificant as compared to US IT spends in actual dollars.

Healthcare outfits in India are waking up to IT and its true potential and to cloud in particular. The Indian middle class is growing as is the disposable income to seek better treatment and facilities. For the healthcare segment, this means bringing efficiencies while cutting costs and a chance to improve customer delight with innovative programmes and improve healthcare delivery and eventually health outcomes, says the Dell Services global head for healthcare.

According to Sid, India is today an economy to reckon with. However, as the country develops and grows, it still struggles with a variety of complex priorities such as efficient delivery of government serviceshealthcare in particular to its population of 1.2 billion people. To meet these challenges, the healthcare sector is adopting technology. It is important for hospitals to understand innovative technologies, which can help support a level and pace of change that may be increasingly required. Good news is that Indian hospitals are going to up their IT usage even up to 3-7% of the overall hospital budget over the next 4-5 years. State governments are also realising the potential of healthcare IT and investing locally, he informs.

Research firm Gartner estimates the industry to increase spending from the current $54 billion to $164 billion by 2019-20. And the cloud market for healthcare is expected to reach around $600 million by 2020 according to some research estimates. Clearly, Indian healthcare has the opportunity to leapfrog into next-gen technology like the cloud, says Sid.

Industry analysts reckon that cloud technology has received a lot of attention in the healthcare industry lately. This is because healthcare providers globally are looking for strategies to reduce cost and meet new demands. Today healthcare organisations must find ways to reduce cost, improve productivity and health outcomes. At the same time, technology-savvy consumers are now demanding a higher level of interactionsuch as instant online access to information, products and services through their desktops and mobile devices. While addressing these challenges, many healthcare organisations are also struggling to manage and optimise their complex IT systems. In the past, most hospitals in India preferred to develop their own IT systems and manage it.

The Dell healthcare services head believes that better, more efficient care starts with better information and cloud computing today, is a strategic tool to help healthcare organisations focus on using information to improve care, not on managing it. Cloud technology offers hospitals and physicians considerable benefits. It allows for improved care coordination because employees at healthcare systems will have real-time access to patients clinical data across providers, which during medical emergencies, is critical for optimal care.

Transferring to cloud computing also allows healthcare systems to reap real, positive economic benefits. Various electronic systems can be implemented with little to no capital investment or IT infrastructure, allowing for patient data to be accessed across entire healthcare communities using one single access point. This leads to lower operating costs for healthcare systems. By moving to the cloud, the burden of buying, building and maintaining infrastructure becomes a non-issue, he stresses.

On its part, Dell provides capabilities that healthcare providers need to operate as efficiently and as effectively as possible. These include end-to-end solutions including hardware, implementation, hosting, consulting, back office functions (such as enrollment and billing), and services around electronic medical records, health information exchanges and health insurance exchanges. The company supports the entire spectrum of care delivery: hospitals, health systems, physician practices, health plans and healthcare supply chain organisations.

For all the innovations transforming the healthcare industry, one area where it remains almost universally behind the times is in the use of IT. The possibility of innovative cloud technology that is simple to use and cost effective is a phenomenal change in how care could now be delivered. And, change the above perception too!


* Indian healthcare industry to increase spending from the current $54 billion to $164 billion by 2019-20

* The cloud market for healthcare is expected to reach around $600 million by 2020

* Indian hospitals plan to up their IT usage to 3-7% in the next 4-5 years from the current 0.5-1% of the overall hospital budget

* Tech-savvy consumers demand online access to information, products and services via their computers

* Transferring to cloud computing allows healthcare outfits to reap real, positive economic benefits