Cloud computing in medical imaging: Not a matter of if, but when

Nadim Michel Daher, industry principal at Frost & Sullivan reveals his views on the vital role of Cloud computing in medical imaging

In the minds of healthcare IT decision-makers, as several surveys have shown, Cloud-based solutions have long been associated with data security and data ownership concerns. The apprehension does have a strong rationale: Why would anybody move confidential patient data off-premises and willingly become dependent on the network or on a vendor to be able to access and utilise data they own?

While this perception has caused lasting resistance to Cloud adoption in healthcare, especially in the government hospital segment, it has been changing gradually over the last few years. Years that also happened to be punctuated by regular Cloud outages and cybersecurity attack horror stories.

Recognising the Cloud’s benefits

The benefits of Cloud solutions, such as their cost-effectiveness and predictability, unlimited scalability and deployment flexibility, have started to outweigh the perceived risks. Cloud proponents even go as far as to admit that vendors are in a better position than their own IT organisations, to proactively protect data while leveraging the latest data security advances. They realise that there are waste and inefficiency inherent to the conventional siloed on-premises IT models and that they could use freed-up time to focus on higher-value enterprise initiatives. Therefore, as they contemplate the second or third generation of various health IT solutions, the standard model of buying, operating and maintaining that in-house is naturally coming into question.

Medical imaging, a precursor

This is especially true in medical imaging, where the unending growth in image data volumes, coupled with long-term data retention policies in place, makes traditional storage upgrade and scale-up mechanisms clearly unsustainable over the long run. This is why, since the early 2000s, Cloud-based solutions have provided a viable alternative to tape- and truck-based solutions for the long-term archival of medical image studies. While this early adoption has enabled many providers to get their feet wet with Cloud solutions, there is actually so much more today to Cloud use than mere back-office data storage support.

Cloud storage is only the beginning, Cloud computing is next

Two simultaneous and complementary market trends are advancing Cloud-based imaging informatics into new use cases: the continuous expansion of medical imaging applications into niche subspecialty clinical areas and the ongoing diversification in the points of care where medical multimedia content is produced and consumed by various enterprise imaging stakeholders. This is driving the development of the following four core application areas:

  • Cloud-based image archiving, which has been advancing beyond “deep” archival towards real-time online accessibility.
  • Cloud-based image distribution (for inter- and cross-enterprise image exchange, image-enabled electronic health records (EHRs), patient portals and healthcare information exchanges (HIEs).
  • Cloud-based image diagnosis (RIS, PACS, Teleradiology, Reporting), which can complement or completely replace on-premises image management solutions.
  • Cloud-based imaging analytics, with various types of applications that can be delivered on-demand as software-as-a-service (SaaS) or on a subscription basis as part of Cloud-based ecosystems or marketplaces.

A fast-developing but fragmented market

On the vendor front, the industry players can be categorised into three groups as follows:

  • The speciality early-movers, who have embraced the Cloud early-on as the core enabling platform for their solutions, built some of their own data centres and who can be credited for the inception of this emerging market.
  • The large cross-industry Cloud infrastructure vendors (led by Amazon, Microsoft and Google), who are now fully proactive in developing their industry partnerships as well as native solutions in healthcare, including in imaging.
  • The established imaging IT vendors, many of which have been fairly conservative in transitioning their customers to Cloud solutions, but some of which are preparing a major realignment around Cloud-based models.

Double-digit growth rate projections

Cloud-based imaging informatics still represents a relatively small market, totalling $285.4 million in revenue in 2016 globally. It accounts for 8.5% of the total Cloudbased health IT market and to 3.8% of the total imaging IT market. However, while fairly niche, the market is expected to remain on a very strong growth trajectory over the next few years, growing to $830.5 million in 2021, or an impressive compound annual growth rate of 23.8%.

New dimensions via enablement and synergies

Transitioning to a Cloud-based imaging IT model is no easy shift, whether for healthcare providers or for vendors. Both have to align with the new purchasing, business, management and governance models that this shift entails and to be able to absorb its unconventional operational, security and financial risk profiles. Yet, as we have moved past the innovator stage and well into the early adopter phase of the Cloud in imaging, now is the time for Cloud solutions to unleash their untapped potential.

For their greatest value is fact not in Cloud technology per se, but in its synergies with the field’s most impactful developments: by enabling greater data usability for advanced imaging analytics (big data, radiomics and machine learning), accelerating interoperability imaging research initiatives, or converging with healthcare blockchains, the Cloud will be, without a doubt, a pervasive actor in the ongoing transformation of the medical imaging value chain.

Nadim Michel Daher

Industry Principal, Medical Imaging and Informatics

Frost & Sullivan

Tel: +33 (0)1 42 81 54 50

enquiries@frost.com

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