How Will "Cloud" Databases Help Healthcare Providers?

Large-scale databases are expensive, time-consuming to maintain, and require specialized “database administrator” skills to keep them functioning effectively.  That’s why many smaller providers avoid implementing them, even in the face of increasing needs for data to make decisions in their organizations.  Also, many of these organizations are geographically diverse, which requires additional networking and remote access infrastructure to allow use in multiple locations.  For many organizations, gaining access to serious data technology has too many technical barriers and fixed costs associated with it.

Internet based databases, such as Microsoft’s SQL Azure service, eliminates most of these barriers, providing access to significant database computing power on a pay-as-you-go basis.  Microsoft takes care of the administrative functions (hardware and software infrastructure, security, backups, updates, etc.), which means that the client organization can use the data without having to worry about how it’s managed.  Since its internet-based, the data is available to any authorized user having internet access.  A SQL Azure database can be populated with data from one location, and have it instantly be available to users at another location.  Excel spreadsheets, Microsoft Access reports, and other tools can be connected to the database, and provide the user with a rapid access to large quantities of data.  Users familiar with SQL Server can utilize same tools that they use for local SQL versions without having to learn a whole new tool set.

A primary concern of any data storage system is its security.  While no database can promise absolute protection from unauthorized access, the relevant question is whether SQL Azure is more secure than any reasonable alternative.  Azure data is protected by a user name and password, which is similar to the security applied by most health systems.  In addition, access can be limited to a specific IP address or range of addresses (go to http://www.whatismyip.com/ to find your IP address), which further limits the ability to access this data by unauthorized users.   Finally, should unauthorized access occur it would probably be preferable to have it be Microsoft’s fault and not yours!

Singletrack Analytics expect to use SQL Azure databases to provide the back-end for reporting capabilities that we develop for clients for whom we prepare and analyze data.  This allows us to receive client data, processes and format it for reporting, and make the data immediately available to the client without requiring any IT-type interventions on the client’s end – or needing to send protected health information through emails.  The client can simply refresh a copy of their spreadsheets or reports, which will immediately be updated with the most current data.  It allows them to take advantage of a significant database infrastructure without actually having to own it.

We’re working some interesting samples of this technology, so check back on this blog to see how it actually works.