The 22nd January 2018 was a quietly defining moment for digital healthcare: NHS Digital released long-awaited national guidance on the use of off-shoring and of public cloud services for NHS and social care datai. It was important because embracing cloud technology is much more than an opportunity to reduce cost; cloud technology is itself a catalyst for innovation and a new kind of openness and collaboration in healthcare.

It is perplexing why it has taken so long to reach this milestone. In 2011 when Careflow Connect was still a start-up, the NHS’s then ‘Connecting for Health’ had conflicting views about cloud but there was senior level acceptance that it was the way forward and that guidance was needed. We decided to forge ahead anyway, making us one of the first (if not the first) healthcare company in the world to synchronise patient data into a public cloud platform. Others were less sanguine. I fear that conservatism in this area has had the negative effect of stifling the digital innovation that the NHS so badly needs.

From a customer perspective, the cost benefit of cloud is reasonably well understood. The hardware in a hospital data room requires some hefty up-front capital expenditure, and then regularly updating or replacing by teams of specialist staff. New licences, patches, configurations and updates are constantly required. Although many NHS organisations have spent huge amounts of money upgrading and maintaining their data centres, nearly all have fallen short of the expected security standards now required of themii.

Cloud computing allows these organisations to shed this overhead and leverage economies of scale. It provides dedicated resources to ensure the very latest hardware, software and quality of service is available (which means security patches are applied straight away) and its data centres are built with extreme efficiency in mind. This in turn, lets healthcare organisations focus resource back to their core business of delivering healthcare. A report from Digital Health Intelligence suggests a third of NHS trusts were delivering part of their infrastructure through the cloud and 39% planned to within the next two yearsiii.

Dr Jon Shaw, Director of Clinical Strategy, System C Healthcare
Twitter: @DrJonShaw

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i NHS and social care data: off-shoring and the use of public cloud services
ii NHS trusts fail post-WannaCry cyber security checks
iii Is cloud hitting a tipping point?