Cloud computing could help public health agencies connect with providers

Public health agencies should consider using cloud-based platforms to connect with healthcare providers both directly and through health information exchanges, Noam H. Arzt, president of HLN Consulting in San Diego, said in a Government Health IT article.

Cloud computing offers flexibility, scalability, technical support and enhanced security, Arzt noted. Moreover, he said, the total cost of ownership can be quite competitive with that of traditional onsite solutions.

As more and more providers--especially those in smaller physician practices--adopt cloud-based electronic health records, Arzt said, EHR vendors are increasingly aggregating clinical data generated by these EHRs. Therefore, public health agencies that use cloud services should be prepared to work with these vendors.

Arzt cited a new article in the American Journal of Public Health that recommends that public health agencies go to the cloud. Authored by Leslie Lenert and David N. Sundwall, the paper notes that, to meet the requirements of the government's Meaningful Use incentive program, providers will have to transmit immunization data, syndromic surveillance data, and reportable lab results to public health agencies. But "a crisis looms," the authors wrote, because the agencies' information systems are largely incapable of receiving this data.

"Cloud computing may be a solution for public health information systems," write Lenert and Sundwall. "Through shared computing resources, public health departments could reap the benefits of electronic reporting within federal funding constraints."

With public health reporting receiving increased emphasis in Meaningful Use Stage 2, providers need to quickly ramp up their ability to connect with public health agencies. At the recent conference of the Health Information Systems and Management Society (HIMSS) in Las Vegas, public officials noted that health information exchanges could prove crucial in this area.

But despite the rapid growth in private and public HIEs, it does not appear that exchanges will be available everywhere in time for the start of Stage 2 Meaningful Use in 2014. Meanwhile, cloud computing could help fill the gap.

To learn more:
- read the Government Health IT article
- see the American Journal of Public Health paper