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Cloud Computing Comes to Healthcare Management

There’s big news on the healthcare technology front: Cloud computing company Salesforce.com and Dutch electronics firm Philips have announced plans for an “open cloud-based, healthcare platform,” according to the New York Times.

There have been other high-profile cloud entries in health care, notably Google Health, a personal health records initiative, which opened in 2008 and was shut in 2011. But Salesforce is an enterprise cloud company and it is taking a very different approach. Its initial move, with Philips, is to focus on a specific target in health care — using technology to manage chronic ailments.

Notably, Google tried to attract consumers. Salesforce and Philips are going directly for large healthcare providers in a focused way. But that focus is wider than it may look when you remember that chronic diseases include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity.

People with an MBA in healthcare often leave technology implications to clinicians or IT personnel. But cloud computing offers a radical change in how organizations have used computers for decades. The shift has implications for how healthcare managers will budget, plan capital expenditures, allocate resources, and even design business processes.

For example, to some degree, many clinical systems have been, of practical necessity, centered on the provider. Putting the organization at the center of treatment necessitates certain expectations and assumptions that constrain how care delivery can happen.

This new venture literally puts the patient at the center with sensors to monitor vital functions. Data can get pushed over the Internet, presumably in a variety of ways, to a cloud system that analyzes the data from many patients. Algorithms can determine which patient is currently the highest priority, essentially automating a specialized version of triage. The appropriate nurse practitioner receives an alert to contact the patient. The result could be improved outcomes and reduced expenses by stopping problems before they would require more costly intervention or even hospital admission.

Having computers make decisions and instruct healthcare professionals whom to contact and when is outside the typical approach of the industry. Managing people and processes when using a tool like this new cloud system from Salesforce is significantly different from depending on professionals to read charts and remember when to take action.

Cloud computing is likely to make many more inroads into healthcare, just as it has in so many other industries and functions. The potential to reduce spending on in-house hardware, gain new capabilities, and connect patients with professionals is too strong for organizations to ignore it. Now is the time for executives and managers to investigate this form of computing, understand some of the changes that could come about, and consider how healthcare management will change as a result.

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