Going by recent reports, it would be fair to assume that the Indian healthcare segment is looking at information technology (IT) for a healing touch of sorts.

Reports suggest that hospitals are going to up their IT usage to 3-7 per cent in the next four or five years from the current 0.5-1 per cent of the overall hospital budget. State governments are also realising the potential of ‘health information technology’ and investing locally.

IT adoption in the healthcare segment till now has been slow and fragmented for various reasons. Key among them are low allocation for IT and multifarious health delivery. Medical equipment and operational expenses often take precedence over IT investments. Also, the industry is vast, with multiple delivery mechanisms, leaving in its trail thousands of medical records on paper — hand-written notes, scans and radiology images — creating silos of information.

With medical costs on the rise and a growing middle-class seeking better services, hospitals are looking to IT to help them achieve success.

Cloud can offer great efficiencies with its pay-per-use model, helping reduce ‘total cost of ownership’ by 10-30 per cent. For large hospitals seeking legacy migrations, cloud can be an effective solution, even if it entails capital expenditure itself. Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and ancillary software are adding millions of data points and cloud can help store and manage healthcare data and applications, securely and effectively.

For large hospitals, besides keeping costs low, cloud helps in meeting compliance requirements of maintaining EHRs, while cloud infrastructure can boost scalability and reliability. For the government, cloud benefits include secure data storage, sharing and retrieval on any device, thus, helping boost telemedicine and rural initiatives cost-effectively, while upping health outcomes.

Also, with large amounts of data stored in the cloud, government health officials will have an opportunity to analyse data and trends and help curtail communicable diseases, and speed up preventive measures. The mid-size segment generally outsources IT, so cloud is a natural fit, offering cost-effectiveness and taking on the burden of managing IT.

Centralised EHR and Hospital Information Systems (HIS) have already proven successful for New Delhi-based hospital chain Max Healthcare. With centralised EHR and HIS, Max can now treat and follow up with patients from any of its locations across the country.

Even as cloud promises many benefits, challenges remain. Health organisations want more proof points from cloud vendors and are still hesitant about having their data stored off-premise. Data security continues to be a concern, but smart encryption methods and physically and logically partitioned cloud environments can slowly, but surely, convince health enterprises.

Health organisations are also cautious about vendor lock-in and the maturity of the many cloud vendors in the market. On the infrastructure side, cloud relies solely on Internet connectivity, and India is clearly underinvested here. However, this can be offset with great advances in telecommunications. A small to mid-sized enterprise can stay seamlessly and securely connected to their cloud environment with as little as two data cards.

However, enterprises should remember that cloud is not a panacea. Enterprises need to analyse business, operational, and IT objectives carefully and need to weigh them against their current applications, operations, and infrastructure. They also need to evaluate the right mix of public, private, or hybrid clouds and platforms that best suit their needs.

Despite these hurdles, the healthcare segment is optimistic. And as they prepare to take on their IT journey, the onus is clearly on the IT and cloud solutions providers to offer the right assistance and partnership.

(The author is vice-president and global general manager, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Dell Services)