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The digital ethics of loading personal data on to the cloud

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"As an e-healthcare institution, a serious concern is to keep health data records secure."

Cloud technology brings advantages for patients, doctors, pharmacies and hospitals. But how quickly and safely can e-healthcare systems be rolled out and what are the digital ethics ahead? Ezat Dayeh of Cohesity looks at the way forward.

In the healthcare sector, businesses must abide by regional guidelines set by compliance regulations and protect the privacy of patient records. This becomes a challenge when information is uploaded to the cloud.

A data breach could result in leaking sensitive patient records, and this breach of privacy could result in hospitals and other healthcare institutions to be taken to court.

Digital ethics has become a rising concern for e-healthcare, and regulatory bodies are making sure that privacy guidelines are being followed by companies that use cloud services.

Since the cloud is the new standard for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the security of medical health records must be guaranteed while making data available centrally – a tough dilemma for e-healthcare.

The Cloud Security Alliance published a list of best practices that companies using the cloud platform should adopt to ensure the robust security of confidential information in SaaS and PaaS models.

This involved implementing multiple layers of authentication and a breach notification system along with a data retrieval process in the unfortunate event of a disaster.

As a healthcare or e-healthcare institution, a serious concern is to keep health data records secure and away from malicious users.

Organisations using cloud services ensure that their cloud provider is implementing these measures before uploading data to the cloud.

Once the issue of security is resolved, the trustworthiness of cloud systems can be established, and data can be migrated to the cloud platform so that authorised entities can take advantage of the solutions and improvements that the cloud offers.

Interoperability is another massive concern for cloud users because of the incompatibility of the systems used by healthcare organisations.

Data must be compatible at different levels – provider, software, computer, data levels, system integration – to be able to be moved to the cloud and used cross-institutionally.

Different protocols such as OS, programming languages, data formats, and platforms that are used by healthcare institutions pose a significant challenge in terms of standardisation and ease of data transferability.

For example, in one log or application, a phone number may be stored as 1234567890, while in another, it may be stored as (123) 456-7890. This means added work for programmers when trying to integrate systems into the cloud.

This implies that software programmers will have to use a common data model and standard processes so that data can interact with each other. This can be done using universal standards, making maintenance and updating much more comfortable, and resulting in substantial benefits for the overall health community – caregivers and patients alike.

However, with greater interoperability comes a higher risk of a security breach; it becomes easier for hackers to transfer data to their systems if all data and platforms are standardised.

Therefore, health organisations need to integrate their existing systems with modern web- and cloud-based systems while meeting the legal standards of safeguarding private data in compliance with HIPAA/HDS regulations.

But despite the ease that centralised data brings, the cloud has its occasional downtime. And this means that if data is not backed up on another cloud system as well, it will not be available to the healthcare provider during downtime. This impacts on productivity and is an unnecessary complication because it means that for businesses that cannot wait for the cloud to get back online, self-maintained physical installations must be regularly updated, too.

But if managed well, the risks and challenges of cloud platforms can be far outweighed by the benefits.

The cloud provides a modern business model for healthcare institutions and start-ups that is sustainable long-term with all the innovations in the IT industry.

It improves the quality of patient care, allows greater collaboration between doctors and institutions, and reduces the cost for internal IT departments, along with faster development cycle and application releases.

A doctor in one city can discuss and share insights with a doctor in another city – or even country – in real-time. This leads to a greater understanding of the patient’s condition, a faster and better diagnosis, and the sharing of knowledge and experience, leading to elevated patient care.

Patient files are regularly updated and synced across all systems and devices with authorised access and can be easily accessed from anywhere at any time.

With such vast amounts of data and processes now taking place on cloud servers, the budget for maintaining and updating internal IT departments can now be directed to other operations.

Additionally, a new “pay-as-you-go” system means that organisations only pay for what and how much they use. They don’t have to buy expensive hardware and software, licenses, or hire staff for maintenance and security.

And because cloud service providers are monitored regularly for compliance with HIPAA and GDPR, users can rest assured that their data will be safe, allowing them to reap the benefits of cloud computing without feeling vulnerable.

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