AWS Public Sector Blog

Our health in the cloud: Enabling strategic policy goals for a data-driven vision for healthcare

Our health in the cloud: Enabling strategic policy goals for a data-driven vision for healthcare

This is a guest post by Suzanne Wait with the Health Policy Partnership and Dipak Kalra, from the European Institute for Innovation in Health Data

The health sector holds approximately one third of the world’s total volume of data. But much of this data remains underused or stuck in silos – mirroring the fragmentation and complexity of health systems. A vast amount of data surrounds the health of each person; drawing insights from this data is vital to address some of the greatest health challenges facing society, including improving the efficiency and person-centredness of care; fostering a population-based approach to help reduce health inequalities; accelerating the pace and scale of research to drive innovation; and protecting the sustainability of health systems (Figure 1).

Figure 1. How cloud technology can enable health system goals: key challenges facing health systems and the opportunities afforded by a data-driven approach.

Figure 1. How cloud technology can enable health system goals: key challenges facing health systems and the opportunities afforded by a data-driven approach.

The advent of cloud technology, coupled with advances in fields like epidemiology, genomics, and data analytics, has led to transformational change in how we use data in health. These developments enable a data-driven approach in individual care, public health, and health-related research.

One such example is the development of cloud-enabled electronic health records (EHRs). For patient safety and accurate analysis, EHRs need to be complete, including data from wearables such as remote monitoring devices, as well as data generated within healthcare settings. They also need to be interconnected, so that health data always follows the patient as they navigate the health system. Research suggests EHRs translate into better quality and outcomes of care: organisations that implemented EHRs had 30% higher adherence to clinical guidelines, a 54% reduction in medication errors, and a 36% reduction in adverse drug events. For patients, EHRs support more coordinated care and less risk of duplication. EHRs also help patients mitigate the anxiety and frustration of losing information about their health if they move from one physician to another.

Health equity is one area where cloud technology can play a growing role in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted long-standing social inequalities and their profound impact on health. Yet the groups who tend to experience inequalities have been historically underrepresented in longitudinal databases used for epidemiological and health system planning purposes. One solution enabled by the cloud integrates population-level socioeconomic data with hospital admission and health outcomes data to help healthcare providers and decision-makers map where disparities lie and develop targeted public health interventions or health service improvements for those who need them most.

“When it comes to addressing the social determinants of health, we tend to underuse technology. However, it is increasingly relevant as we try to prevent non-communicable disease because [it allows you] to capture and understand significant quantities of data from different sources to inform which interventions will help achieve your population health goals and improve health equity most efficiently and effectively.”

— Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University Belfast

The importance of engaging all stakeholders

Notwithstanding this potential for innovation, it’s important to recognize that the benefits of cloud technology may be somewhat invisible to patients and healthcare professionals. Research suggests there is some reticence to using the cloud in health, though many of these concerns would be similar for any virtual platform that stores or allows sharing of personal health data. This may seem surprising given that most people don’t bat an eye at having the entirety of their financial data available on the cloud. Yet it underlines the importance of engaging the public, patient organisations, and healthcare professionals in open discussions about the cloud and its applications in health. This is essential to foster a greater understanding within these groups of what the cloud is and what it can do, as well as demonstrate its trustworthiness – particularly when it comes to data security and privacy.

“Transparency in the adoption of cloud is just so crucial. It’s important to explain the advantages, the value to the patient, the solutions and the risks. Of course it’s the future, but it’s already happening, too. Patients need to be involved not because they know more but because they know different things. Lived experience is an extremely valuable part of a multi-stakeholder approach.”

— Gözde Susuzlu Briggs, ‘Data Saves Lives’, European Patients’ Forum

Health system leaders also need to adopt a collaborative approach to integrate the cloud into the complex architecture and processes of health systems. This may involve adapting regulatory frameworks, supported by workforce training and infrastructure changes to make sure the cloud can be deployed securely and sustainably. Cloud service providers, health data experts, patient organisations, healthcare professionals, and regulators need open discussion to make sure cloud-based applications are deployed with the interests of patients in mind. It is only with this kind of collaboration that the transformative potential of the cloud can be fully realized and integrated into our collective vision of the future of health and healthcare.

For more information, read the Our Health in the Cloud report developed by the Health Policy Partnership and the European Institute for Innovation in Health Data. The report provides a balanced narrative on what cloud technology is and how it can be used safely and effectively as an enabler of broader health system goals, building on concrete examples of existing applications. The report was commissioned and funded by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

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Suzanne Wait

Suzanne Wait

Suzanne Wait is managing director and co-founder of The Health Policy Partnership, an international health policy consultancy based in London. She has over 25 years of experience in health policy research, analysis, and advice, working across Europe and globally across all sectors within health. Her expertise is in creating and leading multistakeholder partnerships to drive policy change. She is Visiting Lecturer and Health Executive in Residence at UCL’s Global Business School for Health.

Professor Dipak Kalra

Professor Dipak Kalra

Professor Dipak Kalra is president of The European Institute for Innovation through Health Data (, a professor of health informatics and a former London general practitioner. He plays a leading international role in electronic health record (EHR) research and development (R&D). He has led the development of ISO standards on EHR interoperability, personal health records and data protection. He participates in multiple EU Horizon 2020/Europe and IMI/IHI projects including the generation of real-world evidence in pregnancy, scaling up the quality, interoperability and the reuse of health data for research providing inputs to the European Health Data Space, and growing a European ecosystem for collecting and using of health outcomes towards more value-based care.