A depiction of a cloud has often been used in computer network diagrams as a symbol of the Internet. Therefore, the cloud became a metaphor for the Internet. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the term “cloud computing” eventually would be coined.
While there are varying definitions and categories of cloud computing, at its most basic, cloud computing consists of accessing information stored in servers on the Internet and caching that information temporarily onto the user’s client or browser applications. The architecture is appealing largely because it offers greater processing capacity without the extra expense typically associated with obtaining that capacity.
“A word processing task that required only a 1-MHz Z80 processor 25 years ago now requires a computer with 10,000 times the processing power—and if anything, the new application is slower than the Z80 application,” says Raymond Aller, MD, director of the automated disease surveillance section and senior physician, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and contributing editor to the CAP TODAY “Newsbytes” column. “In this environment, the costs and complexity of managing the enormous farms of servers required to provide computing support to many businesses are escalating,” he continues. “And cloud computing holds the promise of offloading all those management headaches onto someone else.”
Cloud computing not only eliminates the need for new infrastructure, it reduces a business’ expenditure for new personnel and software licensing, says Hal Weiner, president of Weiner Consulting Services, Florence, Ore., and contributing editor to the CAP TODAY “Newsbytes” column. “Another advantage is the ability to quickly obtain a subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time, over the Internet, provides additional capabilities,” he says.
In a server cloud computing arrangement, a user pays the entity that provides the computing power a rental fee for use of its servers. It is the same approach as software as a service, or SaaS, previously known as an application service provider model.
“An example might be to purchase a class about compliance for your employees that is delivered over the Internet,” Weiner explains. “The users would be all of the employees of the lab. The cost would be based on each class that is taken, typically $10 to $15 per user per year.”
While such an approach seems cost effective, there are downsides. One concern is the inherent risk of depending fully on the infrastructure of the Internet, which occasionally experiences slow response times or downtime, says Dr. Aller. Also of concern is data security, adds Weiner. “Any time you have data on the Internet—that is, a public network—you have the potential of hackers gaining access to the data.”
But none of these concerns have deterred interest in cloud computing, which has grown out of decades-old approaches to sharing computer resources. “We’ve been sharing computer resources between companies and service bureaus for a long time,” Dr. Aller says.
“Back in the ’60s it was called timesharing, with the difference being that timesharing was the use of one computer in one location via phone lines,” Weiner explains. “Resources used in a single cloud computing application might be Web services on servers located in hundreds of locations worldwide.”
Amazon and Google have launched cloud computing services in the general business arena, and Microsoft has announced that it will introduce a new operating system environment to support cloud computing. Other large software companies are planning to offer services as well, Weiner says.
Cloud computing is also becoming widely accepted in the medical marketplace and is being used for specific office functions in the lab, he adds. Many laboratories use some form of cloud computing to provide online access to results for physicians and patients. Labs, he continues, also purchase application services, such as for payroll, accounting, and quality control/quality assurance functions, that run on the Internet.
“I believe that, in the future, it will be very attractive for the CIOs and CFOs to outsource their entire computer/server operations to the cloud,” he says.
But cloud computing is still relegated largely to the business operations of the laboratory. Because most labs depend on relatively unique software packages and have critical time-responsive requirements, it will be some time before cloud computing plays a significant role in the medical end of their operations, Dr. Aller says. “Process control applications, such as the standard LIS, likely won’t move to the cloud,” he adds.
However, some niche applications may be well-suited to a cloud application, such as areas that require large amounts of computing power or a large specialized reference database that isn’t highly time sensitive and doesn’t rely on localizations. “Interpretations of genetics findings, pharmacogenomics, and possibly, in the future, analysis of image databases . . . will benefit from the cloud,” he says.
Precision Dynamics Corp., a developer of medical wristband systems, has acquired TimeMed Labeling Systems, a manufacturer of specialty health care labels.
The acquisition allows PDC to offer hospitals a full range of wristbands and specialty labels that interface directly to laboratory, pharmacy, and other information systems. “By joining forces with TimeMed, we have significantly broadened our product portfolio and expanded our team of field specialists to help our customers with reducing adverse medical events and improving patient outcomes,” says Gary Hutchinson, president and CEO of PDC.
PDC’s TimeMed operations will continue to be conducted from TimeMed’s headquarters in Burr Ridge, Ill., and its facilities in Port Orange, Fla., and Dallas.
Sunquest Information Systems has acquired Anglia Healthcare Systems Ltd., a United Kingdom-based provider of laboratory connectivity, orders, reporting, and messaging solutions.
The acquisition significantly increases Sunquest’s customer base in the United Kingdom and other countries “and will put us in a solid position to further increase our global presence,” says David Allcock, vice president of Sunquest’s London-based international operations.
Anglia Healthcare Systems will now operate as Anglia, a Sunquest company.
IntelliDot Corp. has signed an agreement with alliance partner Iatric Systems that formalizes interface pricing, implementation, and maintenance fees for customers that want to use Iatric Systems’ interfaces between IntelliDot solutions and select Meditech systems.
“We’ve implemented more than 6,000 interfaces to facilities using the Meditech HIS,” says Joel Berman, president of Iatric Systems. “We’re pleased to partner with IntelliDot Corporation to help health care providers work more effectively. Our interfaces will connect the customer’s Meditech system with IntelliDot’s innovative bar-code point-of-care solutions.”
The agreement further strengthens the relationship between IntelliDot and Iatric Systems. The companies have worked closely to provide hospitals with interfaces that link IntelliDot’s bar-code point-of-care products with Meditech Magic or Meditech client/server information systems.
Data Innovations has introduced IMLink, its latest Instrument Manager service offering. The product combines an intelligent agent installed on the customer’s Instrument Manager system with a secure back-end system hosted at Data Innovations’ headquarters.
IMLink offers real-time monitoring of Instrument Manager and provides automatic backup of critical files in Instrument Manager, allowing Data Innovations to provide off-site disaster recovery assistance. Users of IMLink can easily upload files to assist in research and diagnostics and authorize a remote-access session.
IMLink is free to Data Innovations customers covered by a current support and maintenance plan and using the appropriate information technology infrastructure.
SoftTech Health has launched the Link2Intranet module as an extension of its SoftTech Health document control system.
Using the module, laboratory staff publish policy and procedure documents on the hospital’s intranet in a read-only format. SoftTech’s document control system keeps the intranet version up to date, so the laboratory does not have to maintain multiple sets of the same file.
“Once a manual has been published using the Link2Intranet module, the lab will not have to interface with other hospital departments when the documents are changed in those manuals,” says Kristen Cowan, chief health care liaison for SoftTech Health. “We call it ‘click and forget,’ because with this module, when a document is updated, or a new one is added to a manual, or an SOP is retired altogether, no one needs to remember to change the intranet version of that document as well. It’s done automatically.”
SCC Soft Computer has announced that it will deploy a suite of clinical information systems at Baylor Health Care System, Dallas. Baylor purchased SCC’s modules for microbiology, blood services, accounts receivable, positive patient identification, cytometry, and genetics, as well as SCC’s SoftLab laboratory information system.
Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, has contracted to purchase PathView Systems’ Progeny anatomic pathology system.
Dr. Horacio E. Oduber Hospital, Oranjestad, Aruba, Aruba’s only hospital, will implement a suite of Cerner Millennium health care information technology solutions.
Information and Quality Healthcare, the Medicare quality improvement organization for Mississippi, has selected Medicity to develop a remotely hosted information technology platform for the Mississippi Coastal Health Information Exchange.
Tempe, Ariz.-based Sonora Quest Laboratories, a subsidiary of Laboratory Sciences of Arizona, has signed an agreement to install Xifin’s revenue cycle management system.
St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Covington, Ky., has contracted to install McKesson’s revenue management solutions for outreach laboratories, which include billing, accounts receivable management, reporting, and account management services.
Dr. Aller is director of automated disease surveillance and team lead for disaster preparedness Focus B, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hal Weiner is president of Weiner Consulting Services, LLC, Florence, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.