Cloud healthcare and the data state of play

Big Tech is muscling in on health big time: look no further than recent acquisitions such as the Microsoft-Nuance and Oracle-Cerner mega-deals.

Research from Frost & Sullivan meanwhile fingers the top cloud provider in healthcare as AWS, with a command of 40 percent of the worldwide market share. The Amazon subsidiary is followed by Microsoft Azure, which increased its share to 18 percent in 2020. The usual suspects stand proud in the form of Google Cloud (12%), IBM Cloud (13%) and Alibaba Cloud (7%), all of whom expanded their market share in 2020 as against their market share a year before. 

There has been a sharp uptick in global healthcare cloud revenue from 2019 to 2020 due to the increased adoption of cloud for a variety of reasons such as data security and compliance, cost savings, business agility, employee productivity and data interoperability,” says Dr Rishi Pathak, industry principal in Frost & Sullivan’s healthcare & life sciences practice. 

Various cloud partnerships have been coming from all corners in healthcare this year. March began with the news IT/consultant beast Cognizant will leverage parts of the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare to improve remote patient monitoring and medical care. The deal was seen as another sign that virtual healthcare is here to stay, much like Zoom calls and other digital businesses that saw a pandemic-borne boom. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitization of healthcare, which has impacted cloud adoption most positively,” agrees Pathak. “This trend is here to stay, post the pandemic, as healthcare organizations realize the benefits of using the cloud over traditional on-premises datacenters.” 

Arguably the Microsoft-Nuance deal may have turned more heads than the Cognizant one. As ERP Today recently explored, the Nuance acquisition shows Big Tech hasn’t been put off by the IBM Watson collapse when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. 

But while AI grabs all the headlines, it’s worth remembering that data is what’s driving the cloud boom in health. While AI does of course need data to ‘learn’ in the way Nuance’s work on Siri made the Apple voice assistant add a new edge to iPhones last decade, that doesn’t necessarily mean the two are interchangeable from a business point of view, as Cognizant tells ERP Today. 

“In the current version of our collaborative virtual healthcare solution with Microsoft, data across disparate health information systems can be used to help care providers cross-reference real-time patient health data to better identify early warning signs of adverse health events and strengthen patient engagement,” a spokesperson for Cognizant tell us. 

“In future versions of Cognizant’s virtual healthcare solution, AI will be able to leverage potentially millions of variables against best possible health outcomes in a very short period of time – leading to proactive triaging and diagnostics for better care.   

For example, leveraging AI to derive insights into a diabetics cohort in order to provide early warning before spikes in sugar levels occur. Or helping an oncologist make a patient diagnosis by evaluating medical test results, demographics and individual risk factors to identify optimal cancer treatment and dosage.” 

In other words, Cognizant’s health services are yet to ride on the AI bandwagon, even if the data is there ready and waiting. It’s the same sort of data which has seen Snowflake unveil a data cloud service targeting the healthcare and life sciences space this month.  

Databricks has recently done the same, offering a data lakehouse, combining the elements of the data warehouse with those of the data lake, for the same fields, with the company’s SVP proclaiming “the opportunity for healthcare to be transformed with data and AI cannot be overstated.” 

Both Snowflake and Databricks though will have the big boys to contend with in an increasingly cramped marketplace. Pathak points to Big Tech’s strong investments in not just AI and machine learning (ML), but HITRUST CSF, HIPPA and GDPR compliancy, data storage, Big Data and analytics, plus data interoperability in DICOM, HL-7 and FHIR.

The investment choices are shrewd, especially considering the vast swathes of new data which virtual healthcare will undoubtedly bring. 

The Frost & Sullivan analyst forecasts a strong trend in the healthcare cloud market during the first two quarters of this financial year, as the market transitions to maturity with an increasing number of healthcare organizations already using some form of the cloud model. 

Pathak also expects global healthcare cloud computing market revenue to reach $52.3bn by 2026, up from $11.59bn in 2020. This is at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.5 percent during the period. 

“The SaaS market will continue to have a strong demand and revenue growth during the forecast period, due to its ease of deployment and cost-efficiency,” he adds to ERP Today.

“Whereas IaaS and PaaS market revenue will significantly grow during the forecast period due to the necessary infrastructure and platform needed to support remote patient monitoring, virtual care and patient engagement and collaboration.” 

As countries are starting to reopen and implement recovery plans, Pathak expects healthcare organizations to step back from “rushed initiatives” and look for support “in creating long-term strategies for their cloud and digital transformation plans.”

“This should continue to impact the global healthcare cloud market positively until the end of 2022,” he expects.