AT&T/IBM Deal Pushes Cloud Back into the Healthcare Spotlight

Posted on October 10, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company’s social media strategies for Billian’s HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I remember 2010 as if it were yesterday. I was somewhat new to the healthcare industry, attending my first Healthcare IT Summit, and trying to make sense of all the buzzwords flying around as a result of the HITECH Act being passed the year before. Cloud computing was definitely a hot topic – one that seems to have stood the test of time in the intervening years. Granted, I think its popularity has been somewhat superceded by phrases like mobile health, accountable care, patient engagement and electronic medical records (of course) over the last 18 months, but a recent flurry of cloud-related headlines may forecast a resurgence.

A report released earlier this year from MarketsandMarkets predicts that conditions are ripe for cloud computing to grow at an annual rate of 20.5 percent from this 2012 to 2017. (Bloomberg Businessweek puts the current market for cloud services at $14 billion.) The forecast makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the healthcare angle of Meaningful Use and EMRs. Providers, despite a few legislators’ recent objections, will likely continue to implement and attest during the next few years, leaving healthcare IT vendors – including those who put their EHRs in the cloud (Allscripts, NextGen and athenahealth are just a few that come to mind) – with no shortage of business opportunity.

And there are even more vendors behind those – the infrastructure folks like Verizon (See their recently announced HIPAA compliant cloud service) and Dell that provide the cloud’s backbone, so to speak. You may by now have seen headlines announcing that AT&T has partnered with IBM to offer a new model whereby “IBM … will provide the data-storage facilities and services, and AT&T will … offer the global network that clients will use to retrieve the data,” according to the Bloomberg write up. It is the closest relationship IBM has ever had with a phone carrier.

Undoubtedly, this new model will be tapped for healthcare purposes, but it’s still speculation as to just how it will be adopted for secure exchange of patient health information. I sent out a few feelers via my social networks to see if anyone related to either IBM or AT&T could provide more detail, and got back this statement from an IBM representative: “I would assume that there will be a HIPAA compliant component. It goes without saying that the healthcare industry is a HUGE segment for IBM.”

“Huge” just might be an understatement, as IBM has stated it wants to attain $7 billion in cloud revenue by 2015. In today’s terms, that’s just one vendor making up the current market value for cloud services.

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, especially as previously lower profile (at least in the healthcare space) technology companies like Dell and IBM, and companies like AT&T and Verizon that are more widely known in the consumer market, continue to make healthcare IT headlines.