Healthcare Cloud Concerns Center on Privacy

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Thursday, Oct 24, 2013  |  Updated 10:39 AM PDT
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Experts say a world where some of the guesswork is taken out of your diagnosis is just around the corner thanks to technology storing your medical data in the cloud. Stephanie Chuang reports.

Experts say a world where some of the guesswork is taken out of your diagnosis is just around the corner thanks to technology storing your medical data in the cloud. Stephanie Chuang reports.

Imagine a world with a lot less guesswork when it comes to your doctor's visit or where you can avoid a trip to the emergency room - some experts say that world is just around the corner, all thanks to technology that's been used in other industries for years. From booking air travel to banking, data mining has helped to improve the consumer experience online. Now, it's time for healthcare to catch up.

That's according to people like Dr. Nigam Shah, an assistant professor with the Stanford Center for Biomedical Informatics Research. He said there is so much patient data that is left untouched, tucked away in shelves, cabinets or libraries that contain information on their conditions, diagnoses, and reactions to drugs.

"We just sit on millions of patients worth of data," explained Dr. Shah. "Healthcare is one of the few industries where we treat a patient a certain way. We record it. We forget about it."

Dr. Shah said technology used by other industries like e-commerce and advertising can be used also to analyze things like your doctors' notes. An algorithm and statistical language, he described, could go through medical notes and pick up on key terms. The point would be to figure out who is similar to the patient and how he or she reacted to something like drugs to optimize prescription or diagnosis.

"The decision that will be made for you will be made on based on people who are like you," said Dr. Shah. "90 percent in terms of age, their ethnicity, demographic, the diseases, the drugs they have. So the decision will be much more relevant, personalized and much more accurate."

For Dr. Darren Schulte, this move will also reveal provider performance. Dr. Schulte is Chief Medical Officer and President of Apixio, a San Mateo-based company that uses new ways to mine data for clients that include Sutter Health and Muir Medical. He said having access to multiple records will show how physicians are treating patients and can compare that to what the treatment should have been.

"You can imagine quality score cards and ways that the individual, the information that they can use to make decisions about who they should see," said Dr. Schulte.

Apixio uses the cloud through its own servers and through Amazon, storing medical data collected from healthcare providers."We will then be able to access and tap into that hospital related info for purposes of helping hospitals provide better care, experience and insights.”

He added that sharing of a patient's medical data isn't new. When a patient goes to a doctor's office, he or she signs a waiver allowing the sharing of the medical information, as long as it is for treatment or billing.

"That’s something that’s out there today, not that it's being made public but there is a sharing of information."

As for concerns of privacy, Dr. Schulte said no one will be able to see names or personal information, only data like age, ethnicity and condition. For security, he described data encryption that "would be very difficult or impossible" to crack open.

A big motivator to finally marry this technology with healthcare? Expense.

"We spend in this country maybe one out of every five dollars on healthcare, and with the aging population that's only going to get worse," said Dr. Schulte.

Still, some privacy concerns linger with how cloud providers will adhere to strict standards like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPAA, which protects patient privacy.

If the industry grows with global healthcare cloud computing, it's projected it could be worth $5.5 billion by 2017.

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