Cloud Computing and Meaningful Use

Cloud Computing and Achieving Meaningful Use

William “Buddy” Gillespie
VP & CTO of WellSpan Health

The race is on for healthcare providers to achieve the implementation of an electronic health record and Meaningful Use over the next five years.  The journey will encounter many challenges, but the necessary investment in robust computing technology stands out as a major impediment. The electronic health record requires fast servers and abundant storage to implement and sustain the infrastructure..

However, there is good news on the technology front. Disruptive technologies are becoming available today which will serve as more cost effective and efficient solutions for the establishment and sustainability of the EHR.  One of the most highly publicized of these technologies is Cloud Computing.  Gartner defines Cloud Computing as “A style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ to customers using Internet Technologies”.
So how can Cloud Computing help in the achievement of Meaningful Use?  The answer lies with the scenario of small hospitals and physician practices which have little or no computing technology today.  The time and dollars required to establish the computing power in these scenarios is daunting and realistically can’t be accomplished in the timeframe required for the achievement of Meaningful Use.
Enter the Cloud.  Cloud Computing, via the concept of remote hosting by a third party, eliminates the investment in local computing power. The Cloud Computing vendor provides the data center and all the server/storage necessary for running the electronic health record.  The cost to the small provider becomes an operational expense not an up-front capital outlay.  The “Cloud Center” takes a scalable “grow as you go” approach so that the provider only pays for the technology necessary to run their EHR.
Like any technology solution, some negative factors do exist with the use of Cloud Computing, especially in healthcare.  The biggest downside is the security risk imposed on protected health information (PHI).  The revised HIPAA rules under the HITECH Act have extended the requirements for providers to secure PHI.  By placing the PHI in a Cloud, providers must ensure that the cloud vendor is providing robust, industry-standard and HIPAA certified security measures to protect the PHI from possible breach situations.  Another downside is availability of high-speed bandwidth between the provider and the cloud in order to facilitate the timely exchange of large packets of data; i.e., PACS images.  For example, in some rural areas of the country, the availability of internet access is poor or non-existent.
In summary, Cloud Computing presents an opportunity for a certain population of providers to achieve the EHR and Meaningful Use within their fiscal and resource capacity.  Even with the few negative aspects of Cloud Computing, the benefits will prevail for the use of this disruptive technology.

About William “Buddy” Gillespie
Mr. Gillespie is Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at WellSpan Health, an integrated delivery system based in York, Pennsylvania that serves the health care needs of more than 500,000 people in south central Pennsylvania. He has delivered presentations and workshops at the NMHCC, HIMSS, HFMA, MIT, PAeHI and HAP conferences.  Mr. Gillespie serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Advance Magazine, the Penn State York IT Advisory Council, the WYSE, CxTEC and the Courion Customer Advisory Boards, and the Pennsylvania e-Health Initiative Board where he chairs the Health Information Exchange Committee.