National EHR: Can the Cloud Play a Bigger Role?

07 January 2014 | Danny Yeo, Health Industry Lead - Asia
Asia’s elderly population is expected to hit nearly 923 million by the middle of the century, putting it on track to become the oldest region in the world. To prepare, many Asian countries are considering national electronic healthcare records (NEHR) initiatives to integrate health systems and seamlessly exchange health information across the country. In fact, many more mature Asia-Pacific countries have already started NEHR programs, including Singapore, Australia, and Taiwan. By tying together their health systems, countries can render healthcare services at the appropriate level, raise the standard of chronic disease management, improve patient safety, and empower patients to proactively track their own health.

The journey is both exciting and challenging. Many Asian countries are taking a phased approach to allow time for both healthcare providers and the public to adjust. This is a reasonable approach—especially considering how many projects fail because of lack of adoption. Another advantage of taking a staged approach is that it gives governments the opportunity to pace NEHR implementations with advancements in IT technology, ensuring the use of the latest technology.

As more countries embark on national EHR initiatives, cloud computing is poised to play a key role. Cloud computing platforms such as Windows Azure and Microsoft HealthVault provide a way to easily build, deploy, and manage national EHR initiatives without having to focus on the infrastructure. Instead, healthcare providers simply pay for the storage and computing power they use, which can be quickly scaled up or down to meet changing needs.

So how can a cloud platform provide support for national EHR initiatives? Here are five ways:

  • It’s efficient, cost-effective, and easy to access. By building their national EHR systems in the cloud, countries can offer an efficient and cost-effective way for local healthcare institutions to replace their existing systems. What’s more, because Windows Azure and other cloud platforms embrace open formats, healthcare institutions have greater flexibility with which to build applications. And once on the system, healthcare employees can access it securely and easily from wherever they are. Spirits
  • It provides a secure platform. Although some worry about security in the cloud, the reality is that the safety and availability of a cloud platform far exceeds what any hospital IT department can provide. Using economies of scale, large cloud service providers build large, redundant data centers that place a high emphasis on backup, data resiliency, and uptime—all at a lower cost than what a hospital could build on-premises. In addition, cloud service providers must comply with stringent privacy standards including those required by the credit card industry (PCI DSS), the US healthcare industry (HIPAA), and the US government (FISMA).The bottom line is that it’s safer to store information in the cloud than in a hospital server room.
  • It offers flexibility. Another main advantage of cloud computing is that it can be implemented gradually.  Governments can choose when and where to adopt the cloud. They can also choose what kind of cloud to adopt—a private cloud, public cloud, or even a hybrid version that encompasses both. This flexibility gives governments the opportunity to build up their confidence over time.
  • It frees up IT staff to focus on healthcare delivery. With a cloud platform, IT administrators at healthcare institutions don’t have to attend to mundane IT infrastructure tasks such as installing or upgrading software or maintaining the back-end system. All of this happens automatically in the cloud—rapidly, cheaply, and with minimal or no interruption to the service. Freed of routine duties, IT staff can instead turn their attention to more strategic goals such as providing better service to patients.
  • It can improve adoption with great apps. Let’s face it—people love apps. And by providing great apps, countries can improve public adoption of NEHR initiatives. Every great mobile app is backed by a cloud infrastructure that can scale up or down based on the application’s use. What’s more, cloud platforms like Windows Azure have taken steps to reduce latency, delivering great application performance anywhere in the world. A great NEHR app paired with modern devices like the Microsoft Surface tablet help governments to empower citizens with the right “tools” to take control of their own health, a key aspect of any successful NEHR initiative.

Cloud-based platforms offer the opportunity to implement NEHR initiatives that are cost-effective, scalable, flexible, and secure. By integrating their health systems in the cloud, countries can take healthcare to a new level of efficiency and effectiveness.

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Danny Yeo
Health Industry Lead - Asia

Microsoft in Health Blog

About the Author

Danny Yeo | Health Industry Lead - Asia

Danny Yeo is the Industry Lead for Microsoft's Worldwide Health & Social Services business in the Asia Pacific region. With more than 15 years of experience in the health industry, Danny's background in healthcare information technology gives him an... Read more