Cloud Computing


Google’s No Bellwether for Healthcare Cloud Services

Google’s recent decision to abandon its Google Health program has raised new questions about how far the healthcare industry is willing to go down the cloud computing path. The reality is that Google’s decision was not a reflection of the healthcare industry’s resistance toward cloud computing, but simply a change in Google’s corporate priorities. There is plenty of evidence that the healthcare industry is becoming more and more comfortable utilizing the cloud.

When Google launched its Google Health program in February 2008 with a fair amount of fanfare, the healthcare debate was a pivotal part of the presidential election, the economy hadn’t yet fallen into economic crisis, and Google was determined to disrupt and “cure” as many global issues as possible, ranging from energy to education.

Fast-forward three years and we now are on the cusp of implementing Obama-care, the economy is still tattered, and Google is refocusing its energies on its core businesses under a new/old management regime rather than trying to reform major social institutions.

Not a Good Fit

Some might see Google’s failure to “scale” its Health program as the result of continued resistance among healthcare providers and their patients to Web/cloud-based healthcare services because of lingering security and privacy concerns.

While I’m sure these concerns contributed to the failure, I also believe that Google’s dispassionate engineering approach, combined with its lack of marketing prowess and its lack of credibility in the healthcare arena are really to blame.

Google couldn’t convince enough healthcare providers and end-users to sign up for its service because it could not convince them that it fully understood how to improve the quality of healthcare beyond reengineering some of its primitive recordkeeping systems.

Without any deep industry domain expertise or experience, Google couldn’t convince individuals or institutions to relinquish their health records to an untested vendor that offered little more than a generic set of commoditized cloud services to house their personal data.

Plenty of Cloud Action

Meanwhile, the healthcare industry is not letting Google’s lackluster attempts discourage it from looking elsewhere for cloud services that can help providers better serve patients while streamlining their operations to reduce their ongoing costs.

For instance, the Personal Health Records market generated an estimate US$312.2 million in 2010 and will equal approximately $415 million in 2015 — a 33 percent increase — according to a recent Frost & Sullivan study. Not all of this market will be captured in the cloud, but a growing proportion will be stored there despite Google’s retreat from this business.

I’ve moderated a series of panels at various CIO forums in recent weeks and heard many healthcare industry IT decision-makers talk about how they are becoming increasingly receptive toward any and all forms of cloud services that can demonstrate clear quality of service benefits and prove that they are reliable and secure.

Some are using cloud services to store data. Others are using cloud services to share information to accelerate diagnoses and facilitate broader research. Many are simply trying to keep pace with the demands of their physicians and other caregivers, as well as escalating patient demands and expectations.

Amazon Web Services’ website lists numerous healthcare case studies that illustrate various ways that simple Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings are being leveraged already. For instance, TC3 Health is utilizing Amazon’s S3, EC2, and SQS services to enable its claim processing system capacity to fluctuate as needed to satisfy its service level agreements.

The Visiting Nurse Service of New York has automated its home health services by adopting a cloud-based case management system powered by’s customer relationship management capabilities. The cloud-based solution has enabled VNSNY to reduce staff time spent on needless paperwork and increase its service productivity while complying with stringent HIPAA requirements.

I believe that these success stories will become the norm rather than the exception in the near future.

Jeffrey M. Kaplan

Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies and founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace. He can be reached at [email protected].

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