I recently attended several IT healthcare events and participated in various sessions. I was not surprised that discussions about big data, analytics and data sharing are top priorities for healthcare organizations working to ensure that cloud technologies are used to improve patient care and help make life and death decisions when it matters most. I was surprised, however, that the security of patient data in the cloud wasn’t on the agenda. Anywhere.

When I stopped to consider how the masses of data being collected are woven into the trend of “communities of health,” I scratched my head even more. Instead of individual providers and resources playing isolated roles in a patient’s life, these different healthcare players are coming together to collaborate in extending knowledge and improving a patient’s options. Lots of data being shared in a collaborative environment requires that security be a top-priority, followed closely by performance. But those topics weren’t there.

Think for a minute about how big data and a community of health might play out for one patient and tell me if you see where cloud security and performance need to come into the discussion:

As part of her care, Patient A will interact with a hospital, a private physician’s clinic, an imaging center, a chiropractor, a mental health case worker, and a county health department that oversees people on public medical assistance. These different players may prescribe medications, ask about her physical and mental symptoms and self-care routines, address any financial constraints and create treatment plans.

In yesterday’s world, they did it all separately, so they each had access to only a fraction of the patient’s complete health outlook. Today, by acting as a community and pooling their data, they gain the insight necessary to treat the patient as intelligently and effectively as possible. A primary care physician prescribing a narcotic medication, for instance, might not be aware of the patient’s drug abuse history, which the case worker knows. The chiropractor could benefit from a more complete look into the patient’s medical history. By sharing their data, these providers and organizations collectively build a more comprehensive and accurate knowledge base that improves treatment decisions.

These are wonderful scenarios. Much of this interaction occurs in the cloud. But the absence of security and performance from these industry discussions give me pause. These topics must be part of the discussion now, not tomorrow. Here’s why:

  • Consider performance. Yes, everyone wants a high-performing cloud, but it’s especially essential in healthcare IT. Think of the benefits of cloud-enabled applications that can share test results or identify medication allergies in real time. Or better yet, imagine someone traveling on business who suffers a heart attack. Making his medical data immediately available to the providers treating him could make all the difference in his survival and recovery.
  • Then we have the always-urgent matter of security. While everyone knows – at least, I hope they know – the importance of security, not everyone realizes that sharing data across healthcare organizations opens up the possibility of increased attack vectors. If you’ve now got eight different providers, clinics and offices transmitting and sharing sensitive medical data with each other, the need for data protection is even more heightened – because the risk is much higher now. Even if some of these interacting parties implement solid security measures – the organization with the weakest protection can sink the whole group’s effort.
  • When it comes to healthcare, cloud technologies continue to offer exciting developments.But to fully reap their benefits, we must ensure that healthcare IT is protecting organizations and their patients in every way – and delivering the strongest cloud environments possible. The strength is not in the imaginative possibilities of information-sharing. It is ultimately in the ability to protect these interactions and mitigate risk for the healthcare organizations and patients. If you were a patient, I am sure you would agree with this perspective.