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Connected Health Symposium 2011: Living in the Clouds

In the book As The Future Catches You, Juan Enriquez notes that “in a knowledge economy, you can work at your desk, in your home, in a hotel, or in a plane.” As a person that operates in just that manner, there are real concerns not about just the connectivity to accomplish that mode of working but the idea of where my work desktop really should be located. Is it time to move beyond carrying around all of my software applications, personal data files and move into the cloud? The real question is whether or not I would have more security and confidence with my ability to work anywhere without the challenges of managing my personal laptop.

The question is more than just an experiment with living on the Internet. When I consider my reliance on my laptop and the upcoming revolution of browser-based or tablet operating systems, it is time to formulate an opinion on the timing and the nature of the move. Last week, Apple rolled out iCloud as part of their iOS 5 upgrade. As I began to use it, there was a quick realization that this technology is really a game changer. We talk a lot about cloud as a part of future solutions in healthcare, but when you personally use it, the idea becomes more concrete.

In a simple experiment, I setup the iCloud to synchronize my contacts from Outlook running on my Windows laptop to my iPhone and iPad. To make it more interesting, I changed my photo on my personal contact record, not a data field. Instantly, and without cables or iTunes sync, my new contact photo appeared on my iPhone and iPad simultaneously – wirelessly and through the cloud. I created a new contact on the iPhone and it appeared in Outlook. The idea that we could apply this technology to really synchronize patient information from acute to ambulatory settings seemed very much closer and more possible. I realize that we have to address privacy and security concerns to make cloud technology work in healthcare, but my iCloud experience is fueling big dreams about what is possible.

The cloud provides the instant on, always available information that healthcare professionals have to crave. Many of them are constantly on the go, unable to sit at a single desk to interact with an IT system. The ability to work untethered but with up to date, accurate information should be more than a dream at this point, but table stakes in a life and death game. It isn’t surprising that there is a high adoption rate of smart phones by medical professionals – they need the technology to cope with daily work demands. The access to secure, managed patient information via mobile platforms and served up by the cloud will soon be expected, thanks to this demonstration by iCloud.

If the heart of accountable care is managing the transitions of patients from one healthcare setting to another safely and accurately, then we need to stop talking about interoperability and make it happen with cloud technology. Let’s take an important lesson from Steve Jobs: Dream Big!

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