Using the cloud to ‘untether’ medicine from wired tech

March 20, 2019 |  Interoperability, Healthcare IT, Transformative Technology

Doctor showing tablet to her patient in hospital room

A little over 35 years ago, on Feb. 8, 1984, astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart left the space shuttle on mission STS-41-B for the first-ever untethered space walk, becoming what the New York Times called “the first human satellites.”

Today, in clinical settings all over the world, healthcare clinicians benefit from the same sense of untethering from wired technology, thanks to the evolution of the cloud.

No longer do doctors and nurses need to sit at stationary computers plugged into walls; today’s medical professionals carry patient charts and plans of care in their hands on mobile devices, with critical data provided in real time over secure virtual networks.

This untethering from hardwired technology, in effect, lets clinicians “re-tether” to patients: Instead of turning their backs to enter data into the EHR, doctors and nurses can speak with patients and their caregivers face-to-face, returning the focus of medicine to people instead of PCs.

The concept shouldn’t be considered revolutionary, but in too many cases, that fundamental goal seems to be absent from work EHR vendors do to bring their products to market.

At MEDITECH, we are committed to the cloud; we’ve developed solutions built on this technology; and we see the future of healthcare in using it to achieve its traditional objective: Treating patients and equipping clinicians with the tools they need to deliver the best possible care.

In my view, pursuing that fundamental goal in the midst of the ongoing evolution and adoption of cloud technology requires four specific components: Providing modern architecture; supporting mobile technology; enabling access and openness; and ensuring security.

Modern architecture

In the wired environment, hospitals often need prohibitively expensive hardware to support their EHR, because of the high volume of sensitive data being shared and stored.

Those cost pressures — combined with federal regulations directed at getting EHR vendors to assume the responsibility for that data — have led to the development of cloud-based infrastructure that requires far less hardware and on-site IT management.

Particularly in smaller hospitals and treatment facilities, having an all-in-one cloud infrastructure makes a huge difference in their bottom line, since it reduces the cost of maintaining on-premise hardware.

For larger organizations, cloud infrastructure means scalable EHR access, allowing newly constructed facilities or newly added clinician sites to go online quickly and easily.

Beyond that, the cloud provides a rich ecosystem for development, thanks to the ever-expanding number and variety of services being created today, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Specific to health IT, I see the next opportunities for development in tools like Virtual Assistant, enhanced voice recognition, and machine learning, so that EHRs will support easier navigation of patient charts, and more timely and effective clinical decisions for each individual patient.

Thanks to the cloud, we can build these innovations on existing services and resources without having to create them — and the faster we deliver our solutions to clinicians, the faster they can use those innovations to treat patients.

Mobile technology

When I think about transferring health data from one location to another, I’m reminded of the classic Star Trek plot where a member of the away team gets hurt on the planet’s surface and there’s no way to physically get them back to the Enterprise.

The crew aboard the ship can still communicate with the away team, receive vital signs remotely to determine course of treatment, and help the team on the ground treat the injured crew member.

What once was fiction is possible today: Direct, uninterrupted, real-time communication to a mobile device in the medical clinician’s hands.

That’s the underlying concept behind building MEDITECH Expanse and some of the recent mobile innovations that we’ve deployed to transfer information quickly across space (though not outer space, like in Star Trek).

Consider the primary care physician who leaves the clinic for the day, and whose patient requires immediate intervention for a medical episode. Now consider what would happen if the clinic’s data center is down, or its internet service is interrupted.

In most situations, this could cause delays in assessing and treating that patient when every second counts.

But with a cloud-based solution like the High Availability Chart that MEDITECH is currently developing, the doctor can access enough of the patient’s record via mobile device to make an informed decision about their care.

That’s not another Star Trek plot — it’s a product that is in development, right now.

By connecting to the cloud and accessing information stored there, independent of the infrastructure at the hospital or clinic, new apps will leverage the latest cloud tech to augment the existing web-based EHR and allow doctors to remotely interact with their patients.

Just as untethered space walks ushered in a new era of mobility for astronauts, so, too, does cloud computing open new horizons for how healthcare is delivered.

In Part 2 of this blog, Howard Messing takes a closer look at how health IT is evolving to support access and openness of health data, and ensure security for that information.

Read summaries of MEDITECH's recent case studies in our new booklet, 
The Innovators: MEDITECH Customers in Action

View The Innovators Booklet Online

Written by Howard Messing, CEO, MEDITECH

Howard Messing joined MEDITECH as a programmer in 1974 and soon after, decided to make healthcare technology his life’s work. CEO since 2010, Mr. Messing brings four decades of experience in electronic health records to the helm; he has served on MEDITECH's Board of Directors since 2011 and works closely with the Board to guide the company's policies, business, and product direction. Before his promotion to CEO, Mr. Messing was President and Chief Operating Officer, a position he held for almost eight years and for which he was unanimously appointed by the Board of Trustees. Throughout his presidency, Mr. Messing has overseen MEDITECH’s steady growth, while maintaining the company’s uniquely supportive, family-oriented culture for which it is known.