In the current digital era, governments are using tech to build predictive models, expand the reach of their services and save time on serving people – why shouldn’t hospitals do the same?

It takes a range of tech tools to accomplish all of the above, but one tool in particular makes it much easier. The cloud places all information and services on a centralised platform, instead of in a single computer. Anyone with an internet connection and the necessary authorisation can easily access this data. Cloud users don’t have to fret over software upkeep, as cloud providers will take care of that.

This tech has huge potentials in transforming the healthcare sector, among others. We look at how the cloud can improve patient experience, enable virtual consultations and speed up medical research processes.

1. The data challenge for enhanced healthcare

An increasingly critical challenge for the healthcare sector rests in uncoordinated and outdated patient data, which can lead to extended waiting times. In a 2015 study by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health , less than 40 per cent of patients were satisfied with waiting times in hospitals. This is not surprising – as it can take up to five hours for a patient to receive outpatient treatment at a public hospital, reported The Malay Mail.

Longer waiting times may also resulted from various inefficiencies including tedious paperwork and unnecessary procedures. Cloud can address these issues by drawing together relevant information from hospitals, and other crucial services such as pharmacies and test providers, to ensure that healthcare workers can access “a holistic view of a patient’s journey”, said Brian Owens, tech chief at a US-based health tech company.

Medical professionals could more safely and easily transfer data between organisations by utilising the same cloud network. While patients move across departments and hospitals, medical professionals will still be able to safely access patient medical records and provide a well-rounded treatment.

Patients will also be able to easily access their personal medical records on the cloud at their convenience, thus benefit from being able to make better decisions about their own health. Health IT Outcomes reported that making data accessible to patients “leads to informed decision making by acting as a tool for patient education and engagement”.

The cloud also allows doctors to monitor patients in real time, allowing for faster intervention. This is critical in healthcare, where saving lives could depend on seconds.

2. Increase healthcare accessibility with telemedicine

Storing data on a cloud makes data accessible anytime, anywhere. This opens up worlds of possibilities for telemedicine, which is now ripe for rapid expansion given the country’s high broadband connectivity – every Malaysian has an average of 1.29 devices connected to high-speed internet .

Doctors will be able to offer virtual consultations, benefitting patients who may not be able to travel. These include elderly patients with disabilities, or patients who have to care for others at home, no longer have to miss their appointments, and doctors can check as well as are able to monitor their conditions more regularly.

Hospitals would also be in a position to extend their expertise to remote areas with limited access to healthcare services. Patients could take a picture of their condition, then upload it onto the cloud, so doctors or relevant Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems may examine it and offer appropriate advice.

These abilities rely substantially on smooth video live streaming, allowing doctors to examine a patient’s condition accurately. In addition to connectivity, which is a prerequisite, cloud will help run such processes faster than a local computer server, and videos will not be disrupted by low bandwidth or network noise.

Telemedicine has been an important area of exploration in this country over the last three decades, and the potential for greater and more sophisticated use to reap its full benefit remains massive. As illustrated above, telemedicine is an important driver to increase healthcare accessibility, and also offers greater distribution of resources so that doctors in less demanding areas can assist their counterparts in the busier areas, alleviating issues of overstretched medical professionals especially in major hospitals.

Telemedicine is already proving its usefulness during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown measures. Malaysians have been seeking advice from doctors using these virtual channels, reported Computer Weekly. The article also mentioned about a medical video consultation portal that is accessible seven days a week, and is free to use.

3. Maximising returns on research

Malaysia spent RM1.2 billion (US$309 million) on healthcare research in 2015 alone. Cloud computing can help to maximise the return on Research and Development (R&D) spend as well as accelerate the go-to-market of medicine for the benefit of the public.

In addition to handling massive amounts of data, cloud can process that data more quickly with its integrated AI and machine learning capabilities. For instance, hospitals can process multi-dimensional images of organs in 10 minutes instead of 90, shared Datamation. This could help to dramatically improve care pathways efficiency and enhancing coordinated activities among healthcare workers – a welcome change to address issues of long queues and waiting times at Malaysian hospitals.

Besides saving time on hospital operations, the cloud will speed up medical research. AI is able to analyse large data sets, and identify population health trends that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. Data analytics processing of patient records also enables more personalised treatments and care. For example, doctors in Europe are currently working on a system to consolidate and analyse data to administer personalised treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and lung cancer.

Securing data with blockchain

Medical records are sensitive and need the highest level of protection against cyber threats. These records often include address history, identification numbers and financial data. Hackers can use this personal information for identity fraud – applying for loans, purchase medical equipment, file false insurance claims under fake identities, or even selling it to third parties for profit.

In September 2019, Greenbone Network revealed that close to 20,000 patient records, along with 1.2 million linked images, from Malaysia were publicly accessible on the Internet. Cloud services can be integrated with Blockchain to ensure patient data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Blockchain is a secure way of storing digital information – its records cannot be deleted and it tracks all changes made on a document. This allows patients’ records to be shared without concerns about false changes. Blockchain can even be used to verify a doctor’s credentials in telemedicine consultations, according to ReferralMD.

TM ONE, Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM)’s enterprise and public sector business arm, recently launched its Cloud Alpha service, which integrates AI, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and Blockchain. This system is designed to provide a seamless transition to the cloud by offering a variety of cloud models to suit every need.

In a scenario where unstructured, isolated data could result in more lives being lost, digital action must be taken. The situation today is that more and more hospitals around the world are rapidly turning to cloud services to improve patient care, serve more people, and conduct research more efficiently.