Cloud as a health business frontier

Cloud computing concept. PHOTO | COURTESY

We are now experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. This is characterised by the use of modern smart technologies to automate processes in industries thereby minimising the need for human intervention. Whereas this description sounds futuristic, its tenets are here with us.

The contemporary buzzwords in the world of business are Artificial Intelligence and its realms of Internet of Things, Big Dataanalytics, predictive analytics, machine and deep learning, blockchain technologies and cloud computing.

The healthcare industry best illustrates how these smart technologies are fast revolutionising the way we conceptualise and deliver healthcare-related goods and services.

Traditionally, for example, a clinic or a hospital or has been seen as a physical building where unwell people seek the services of healthcare professionals to return to good health.

A hospital will ideally have an accessible entrance, a consultation wing where patients are triaged and reviewed by medics; a laboratory where samples are drawn for testing; a radiology and imaging unit where various imaging modalities are applied to try and establish disease types; a pharmacy whereupon a doctor making a diagnosis, the patient will be sent for their drugs prescription.

The fourth industrial revolution is shifting some of these core healthcare processes to the cloud. Cloud computing describes data centres that are available to many users over the internet.

Clouds may be private (for individual organisations), public (for multiple organisations) or hybrid (a combination of both).

Cloud computing has enabled the development of various e-healthcare platforms. The best examples are the development of applications that enable a patient using a smartphone to access clinic consultation, laboratory services, diagnostics and pharmacy services from the comfort of their homes. These platforms enable the storage of patient’s medical records such as past medical histories in the cloud and can be retrieved on demand. This is critical for the continuity of clinical care.

The Mayo Clinic, a chain of hospitals and clinics across the US reported this year that its teleconsultations have increased from a previous 3 percent up to 25 percent. Whereas this has largely been driven by the Covid – 19 pandemic, it underpins the need for healthcare service delivery organisations to adjust their systems to be able to accommodate teleconsultations.

In Kenya, for example, as of last year, 78 percent of Covid-19 patients had asymptomatic or mild illness prompting them to opt for home-based care as per Ministry of Health guidelines.

An enabling factor for this was teleconsultations platforms that enable patients to keep in touch with medics without the need for physically visiting hospitals. Indeed, a study published in British Medical Journal Global Health titled ‘Examining unit costs for Covid-19: Case Management in Kenya’ shows that home-based care is cheaper in the long run for patients with asymptomatic or mild to moderate disease.

So, how does a clinic or hospital get “cloud-ready”?

Well, as they say, change is inevitable. One key step is to shift from a purely paper-based system to one that has some form of an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system. EMRs have been shown to increase organisational efficiencies.

Most importantly, however, is that there is never a blanket formula for making this technological shift.

Whereas this shift is necessary, each healthcare organisation has its own unique internal and external environment which warrants an exhaustive needs assessment, balancing the costs versus benefits, before embarking on such a journey.

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