Health and Wellbeing: faster, more efficient, broader and better
Why and How Europe Must Reach for Cloud Computing
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Europe’s policy makers are faced with a number of challenges. In times of economic insecurity and budget cuts, citizens still expect a sustainable social security system that meets their needs and the needs of their children.
Nowhere are the challenges, the pain points, more evident than in health and wellbeing, where shrinking real budgets are set on a collision course with rising health costs and ageing populations. In addition, citizens today want to be more actively involved in the management of their own health and wellbeing. This increases the pressure for innovation and technology developments to be driven by patients’ needs and with patients’ participation. Add to the mix the challenge of ensuring data security and privacy in such a sensitive context, and you have a perfect recipe for systemic stress or emotional debate, in absence of substantive evidence.
In administration, as with most medicines, there is no “magic bullet”. Economic constraints mean that everyone has to keep their feet firmly on the ground. And in the past few years a new ally has emerged: cloud computing.
The term ‘cloud computing’ describes a new way of working whereby software, computing power, storage – a whole range of infrastructures and applications – reside in the “cloud”, that is to say, off your own premises and accessed via the Internet. Instead of being a drain on capital and human resources, cloud computing enables rapid, agile and cost-effective solutions.
Governments, health ministries, health providers – public and private alike – and pharmaceutical companies have started to use cloud computing to address a variety of business and medical challenges. We are getting a glimpse of the benefits for physicians as knowledge workers. As professionals, they are increasingly getting the right data in the right format at the right time, enabling them to provide better treatment and preventive care.
The infusion of intelligence and connectivity into a wide range of health devices, complemented by Internet-scale services, is creating a new paradigm for computing. As a result, a new paradigm for health and wellbeing is emerging. Such new ways of managing information translates into an improved experience for patients, leading to better outcomes, more control, more convenience, better and broader service, and ultimately better value for money.
The uptake of cloud computing by a few health provider organisations in Europe has shown impressive gains in terms of cost efficiency. The opportunity for cloud computing is to match its ability to deliver solid cost reduction while improving the quality of care and broadening access to health and wellbeing services.
The ability to respond more effectively to pandemics provides an illustration of the benefits of cloud computing. The cloud offering for disaster recovery and business continuity built on the Windows Azure platform has helped health managers to cope with the massive surges in the public demand for information that came with the threat from the H1N1 flu virus – with peak traffic an unexpected 365 per cent higher than the previous day. Data replication and mirroring using the cloud creates another layer of protection when it comes to managing pandemics and disaster recovery, offering new ways of providing resilience, data recovery and business continuity.
Let’s look at another essential aspect for health: collaboration. During Belgium’s Presidency of the European Union, the cloud helped the Belgian Ministry of Health address the collaboration challenge it faced. The cloud enabled a shared working environment across national ministries of health quickly and flexibly, without having to procure and install new hardware to meet increased capacity requirements. The same technology is enabling Russian doctors from different clinics to work together with professionals at the Penza Federal Centre for Cardiovascular Surgery to get online consultancy and reach a correct diagnosis faster. And cloud computing is set to transform the relationship between patients and healthcare by making personal electronic health records a practical reality.
Momentum is building around cloud scenarios applied to health and wellbeing. But there is still a long way to go. The cloud may be hailed as a revolution in computing, but as far as Europe is concerned the revolution has so far been a quiet one, sometimes even proceeding unnoticed. This paper looks at the experiences of early adopters across several countries. We aim to stimulate more innovators to look at the cloud as the emerging enabling technology that can unlock Europe’s potential in health and wellbeing. We recommend that the European Institutions and the European Member States sustain their political leadership by integrating cloud computing in their eHealth Action Plan for the years ahead, including it as an area of strategic investment in the next cycle of Cohesion Funds and in the research priorities of the upcoming Common Strategic Framework. We all stand to gain...
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