Radiology appears to have reached a tipping point in its adoption of cloud computing, with economic and availability issues sending many applications to the cloud.
From retail and manufacturing to the government and public sectors, the cloud computing movement has left its mark on a wide variety of industries, with heavy-hitters like Apple and Amazon touting it as the Holy Grail in business and life alike. While the healthcare segment as a whole remains a bit slower to adopt a cloud-based model, radiology is finding multiple rationales for moving forward on this front and has begun to embrace cloud computing for a range of clinical and operational applications.
Cloud and cloud computing applications may vary from industry to industry, but the definition of the terms themselves is straightforward. “The cloud,” as it is known, is a cadre of remotely-located technology tools, connected by the Web. As for “cloud computing,” the American College of Radiology (ACR) follows a definition set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
ACR executive vice president and CIO Mike Tilkin. According to NIST, “cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider action.”1
More specifically, notes Rasu B. Shrestha, MD, MBA, chief innovation officer, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and president, UPMC Technology Development Center, cloud computing comes in several flavors, including software-as-a-service, wherein specific software applications are run through a cloud; platform-as-a-service, in which users leverage a suite of virtual applications, programming languages, and tools); and infrastructure-as-a-service (reliance on remote data storage networks). The menu of cloud types varies as well, encompassing public (used by multiple entities, with services available through such entities as Amazon) private (dedicated to a particular organization), hybrid (a combination of public and private clouds), and community (shared by a number of organizations).
The Case For Adoption
Whatever its category, there exists strong impetus for bringing the cloud and cloud computing to the radiology table. Under a cloud–radiology umbrella, images are no longer stored on local IT infrastructure, nor are they shared through such physical means as compact discs. Rather, image storage and transmission occur via an off-site network of computer servers, facilitating file backup and allowing access to data through multiple devices, without concern about data loss should an individual device be compromised.
Economics ranks among the top motivators for pushing imaging into the cloud. Transitioning to the cloud eliminates significant capital expenditures associated with in-house IT infrastructures—ie, large (servers) and small (routers and switches) hardware components as well as the cost of data center operation and maintenance, points out Jon Copeland, former CIO, Inland Imaging, a tech-savvy practice based in Spokane, Wash, and the fourth largest private radiology practice in the U.S., according to Radiology Business Journal’s 2014 ranking.
Copeland also is CEO of a full-service eHealth system development and integration company with offices in Spokane, Seattle and St. Louis, Nuvodia, a subsidiary of Integra. In addition to reselling one vendor’s PACS, the company implements that system for healthcare providers throughout its service network and the referring community, utilizing its eRadiology secure, private cloud platform to host and maintain the system database at vendor-operated data centers around the U.S.
All customer sites have on-premise image storage; unlimited web-deployable enterprise and diagnostic workstations yield full access to all cloud technology features. Additional data storage initiatives are under development, including archival storage on a public cloud and an interactive third-tier storage solution.
“Healthcare is under extreme economic pressure, and the fact that cloud takes IT from a capital expenditure to an operating expenditure adds greatly to its appeal,” Copeland says. Hospital systems, the executive adds, would much rather spend their capital on integrating physician practices and acquiring other healthcare systems than on operating data centers.