What Does Software As A Service Mean For Healthcare?
The shift to cloud-based services has led to incredible advancements in the healthcare industry. By enabling information to be accessible remotely, software as a service (SaaS) has negated the need for hosted servers and, in doing so, has reduced cost and increased access to information.
Today, SaaS providers facilitate easier collaboration, allow for quick scalability and integration without requiring infrastructure, and provide ease of use, seamless upgrades and much more. It is no surprise then that the adoption rate of the SaaS model in the healthcare industry is growing at a rate of 20% per year, and the cloud computing market in healthcare is predicted to reach $51.9 billion by 2024.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has driven adoption forward, and the healthcare industry has been forced to be flexible and agile in response. In essence, it has been the world’s biggest test case for technological adoption. Where it may have historically been perceived as costly, risky or complex, now technology is seen as an enabler and the foundation to catapult global healthcare into tomorrow's world.
Technology and cloud-based solutions can support the conduct of global clinical trials, including millions of data points from tens of thousands of unique trial participants while being fully connected and fully functional at all times. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the vaccine trials for Covid-19. We're seeing drugs going through phase 1 to phase 3 in six to nine months compared to what has typically taken a decade. And while the need for speed in this instance is obvious, the process has, by proxy, highlighted the limits in the broader trial process. With the success of the Covid-19 trials, there is no doubt that the learnings will be like ripples in a pond to other therapeutic areas where time is also of the essence, such as oncology and certain rare diseases.
Hiding Behind Data
Despite its rapid growth, adoption of the SaaS model in healthcare has not been easy. Reasons for caution include data security and privacy concerns, contracting healthcare budgets, regulatory compliance, and the need to train people effectively to manage and maintain the technology. There’s also an argument that healthcare has hidden behind data volume and regulation as barriers to adoption. Arguably, the data is no more sensitive and dense than that of the finance or insurance industries, which were much earlier adopters.
The focus on patient safety remains paramount, and that inevitably includes keeping a patient’s data safe. As an industry largely founded on and completely reliant on data, it goes hand-in-hand with implementing appropriate security and protection measures to ensure the safety of that data. This is why there has always been a hesitance in the sector to change the way the data is handled — from manual, paper-based processes to now digital and cloud-based solutions. In something of a self-perpetuating cycle, benefits will be felt as long as companies adopt cloud-based solutions. Because of taking this technological leap forward, healthcare will find it very difficult to take a step back.
Software Or Service?
We’re now seeing increasingly advanced software and technology because it is being used to solve increasingly complex issues and problems, which in turn endorses the requirement for high-quality SaaS solutions. We’re seeing high-class services wrapped around smooth and efficient upfront deployment, with the same pattern repeated in the post-go-live phase. This is absolutely critical.
We expect clinical staff to use increasing amounts of software in their job, but they need good training and guidance to support the transition. By definition, successful SaaS providers offer constant high levels of support services as they enable their users to fully realize their software. It’s for this reason that many SaaS companies build and maintain long-term customer relationships.
Driven By Patients
The global population has steadily embraced a more digital world over the past two decades. As one indicator, 3.8 billion individuals are predicted to own smartphones in 2021. As patients have become more tech savvy, the integration of technology into healthcare and clinical research has been quite seamless from a patient perspective.
During the pandemic, we saw many trials move to a remote and virtual design so they could continue even though movement was restricted almost everywhere in the world. SaaS models and cloud-based solutions allow patients to enter data in real time or have wearable feeds, and they also allow clinicians and doctors to review the data in real time. Patients are seeing the benefits as well — it can ease the burden, keep them involved in the process and give them access to clinical staff remotely. SaaS solutions are necessary for the ever-growing telemedicine market.
The Price Of Privacy
The challenge for the healthcare industry will always be one of privacy and security. In an ideal scenario, data could be stored in a central repository and shared country to country as required. And while this is possible at a national level — the United Kingdom National Health Service uses "Spine" to harmonize health records — it’s not something we’re likely to see on a global scale because of the complexity of security and data privacy laws.
That said, the pandemic has compelled people's thoughts around a need for SaaS adoption in healthcare. People are realizing that it is feasible, safe and effective to collect and store data in the cloud and conduct and host clinical trials on SaaS platforms. It can help expedite the clinical trial process without compromising patient safety. This has opened a new chapter on embracing technology more widely within a regulated framework that can bend safely and work for the good of humanity.