Cloud Technology

Are you ready for the cloud?

Cloud Tech

To many, the term “Cloud technology” means so much, but also so little. It often seems so vague and conceptual, so many non-technically minded people take some time to fully appreciate the benefits of the technology.

To start with the fundamentals of cloud technology, what is it? The UK government has co-opted the definition used by the US government, which defined cloud technology as having five characteristics: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapidly expandable and measurable service.

The cloud is already being used for many clinical and non-clinical systems and tools, in the NHS, private and public sector organisations and citizens’ private lives. There has been some hesitancy within the Patient Safety movement however. This is for very good reason – Patient Safety is such a sensitive field. But is it ready to receive the benefits of cloud received by other sectors?

To answer this question, it is important to understand the benefits of the cloud for healthcare organisations. There are three main benefits:

Firstly, it alleviates a lot of the burdens on organisations for managing IT. With hosting and upgrades provided by an external provider, healthcare organisations do not utilise their own resources for these. At a basic level, this is less workload for an organisation and therefore reduces the resources required. But more than that, this creates a division of labour – external providers specialise in hosting and upgrading their systems and therefore provide an excellent service to users. For the industry as a whole, this specialisation allows software providers to focus on their expertise and healthcare providers to focus resources and organisational energy on their core service provision and improving Patient Safety.

Secondly, and related to the efficiency required for management of cloud software, this means that the leading functionality is always available to organisations. Instead of finding resources to upgrade systems, the same version of a cloud-based tool is typically used across all of its user-base. This means the latest functionality all the time; it also means that cloud systems are future-proofed, with providers specialising in keeping systems at the leading edge of innovation.

Finally, availability. With cloud software typically updated out of hours, up-time is maximised. Even more importantly, access outside of an organisation’s network is possible, without compromising security. This means software can be leveraged across an organisation. Rather than just centralised teams of specialists, it really provides the tools for proper engagement across the whole healthcare system.

So with the benefits very clear, a pertinent question is why organisations are at times hesitant to utilise cloud software. Information governance is of course a clear concern. Especially when it comes to patient identifiable information (PID), it of course goes without saying that organisations need to be incredibly careful when allowing external providers to host their data. 

But in recent reviews, the Department of Health confirmed that they have no opposition to PID being hosted in the cloud. Conditions were given on this, with statements that there should be comprehensive analysis of risks and evaluation of providers. This matches best practice in other industries, where cloud hosting has revolutionised ways of working. In terms of pure readiness for the cloud, assessing the risks is the priority – almost by definition, utilising cloud software has minimal requirements for an organisation to use it, making preparedness for the cloud a largely moot point.

All things considered then, it certainly seems like the future of Patient Safety should be no more than a risk assessment from coming to fruition.

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