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Cloud computing technology is an Internet-based platform that delivers on-demand computing and data-sharing to anyone with a network connection. The cloud draws its strength from its ability to store information remotely on a server, obviating the need for businesses to build and maintain their own expensive IT infrastructure. Its advantage in the healthcare industry is that doctors can easily access crucial medical information at the press of a button. According to a report last year from MarketsandMarkets, cloud services in healthcare are expected to rise from $3.73 billion in 2015 to almost $9.5 billion by 2020.

Currently, most healthcare systems are still closed off from each other. According to Health IT News, “organizations will have to integrate services beyond simple data sharing to achieve interoperation in support of actual coordinated, collaborative care.” That means healthcare providers will have to break down barriers between different information technology systems to deliver more effective care.

Most of these gains may take years to materialize, but as more and more of the industry migrates its services to the cloud, the transition is likely to change many aspects of healthcare research and delivery. For example, a recent report showed how one group of researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital is already leveraging a cloud-based platform to help search for a genetic cause of cancer, which requires the analysis of 100 terabytes of data across 2,000 DNA sequences. The cloud helps them meet their needs in several critical ways: it makes data easily accessible, it encourages collaboration with external partners, and it’s completely scalable, in case the researchers need more flexibility and performance.

As the use of the cloud accelerates, vast amounts of medical data will no longer be stored on local infrastructure, nor shared with physical discs, but instead will be accessible in the cloud. That is likely to improve the quality of care. According to Modern Healthcare, a worrying number of patients still have to bring their own exams and test results to an appointment or completely redo a test because the previous results weren’t available. But thanks to the ubiquity of the cloud, healthcare providers will be able to create a “central repository for images,” from which doctors can easily look up the history of patients’ exams and spot significant changes in their conditions. Waiting physicians “can look at scans while a trauma patient is en route to the hospital, and the patient can be sent directly to the operating room. Doctors also can view images through the cloud and offer consultations remotely.”

According to the magazine Radiology Business, economics is one of the main driving forces behind the shift of imaging data into the cloud. Hospital systems “would much rather spend their capital on integrating physician practices and acquiring other healthcare systems than on operating data centers.” Adoption of the cloud makes a great deal of economic sense, allowing healthcare providers to dispense with expensive IT infrastructure and hardware.

Cloud technology may yet face significant barriers to future adoption, and providers will have to start worrying about security issues. However, the technology is already in place, and it’s already making a difference.