For those not familiar with cloud computing – and who may be wondering what all the fuss is about – here’s a brief tutorial. The traditional way of gaining reliable access to a program is to install it on your computer. You want to use a spread sheet? Simple: buy Excel, insert the disk (or initiate the download), wait a bit, and – presto – you have a spreadsheet available 24/7.
The “cloud” version goes like this. You use your computer to log on to a contract provider and use the spreadsheet program installed on their computer. Huge volumes of storage usually come with the deal. Users never have to upgrade the program (that happens automatically on the cloud) or overuse the limited resources of their computer. All they need is a reliable connection – internet or intranet – to the server with the program.
Two things have opened the floodgates of cloud computing: The explosion of internet connectivity and the incredible improvements in the speed of information transfer.
Who has benefitted? Just about everyone, but especially small businesses/offices. Sophisticated enterprise software (and storage) used to be available only to companies with deep pockets. After all, it costs a lot to install (and continually upgrade) programs on several computers, and it costs even more to buy servers that can process and store large volumes of information.
And then there’s all the IT employees needed to keep the hardware and software running. Now, a small physicians group can, for the price of an internet connection and an access fee (which is kind of like renting the program on an as-needed basis), use the same software. No big capital investments, no ongoing IT maintenance costs, and no worries about storage or ongoing upgrades.
The other big benefit of cloud computing for the medical imaging industry is the low cost and large storage capabilities. As the images used in medical imaging tend to be larger files and a busy practice or hospital medical imaging department will generate a large number of images each month, having access to cheap, abundent storage is critical to keeping costs down.
In the healthcare world, cloud computing means that smaller healthcare organizations can use a top-of-the-line PACS (or other sophisticated healthcare software like RIS, EMRs, and HIS) without having the additional costs of storage and IT support people to manage the PACS system. That’s good news for them and good news to patients out there whose care has improved because their doctors have access to a PACS.