We've seen lots of headlines and discussion recently about the challenges facing consumers and healthcare providers with the rollout of the Affordable Healthcare Act enrollment. A number of core issues have become clear -- no matter where you stand on the new regulations.

Patients say they want better, more readily available access to their personal medical information and advanced, affordable healthcare services. Healthcare providers, at the same time, are under pressure to reduce costs, improve patient outcomes, increase efficiency, scale their services to accommodate growth, and meet new and changing regulatory requirements. The effects of these challenges are being felt around the world, not just in the U.S.

Technology advances can help many of these challenges. New technologies and new models for delivering services can help to eliminate inefficiencies in business operations or improve the way that clinical information is safely and securely shared across healthcare providers and with patients.

Electronic healthcare records (EHR) are helping many healthcare providers achieve these goals, and among the most promising methods for delivering EHR is cloud computing. The cloud offers a model for deployment that is fast, flexible, efficient, economical and secure. Here are a few examples:

Inland Northwest Health Services is a leading provider of medical IT services, which delivers cloud-based healthcare services to more than 4,000 physicians and 450 clinics and offices in the U.S. Recently, Inland Northwest Health Services transitioned to a cloud-based EHR system to provide clients with faster, uninterrupted performance and greater operational efficiency.

The entire organization has transformed the way it operates and serves clients as a result of the cloud-based EHR system. The cloud takes pressure off its existing IT infrastructure and increases both the efficiency and security of the systems. Nearly 95 percent of INHS’ 1,200 servers are now virtualized, permitting the company to double end-user performance, reduce physical space requirements by 28 percent and increase storage capacity.

In Germany, Healthcare IT Solutions GmbH of Germany wanted to plan for future growth by means of a more flexible and cost-effective way of delivering care to its growing base of customers. The organization devised a more flexible way to manage its nationwide healthcare information exchange system, called FallAkte Plus (which translates into English as Case Record Plus).

The system permits physicians at different hospitals to share healthcare information for greater collaboration and improved patient care. Using FallAkte Plus has enabled Healthcare IT Solutions to adopt a managed private cloud strategy, which has helped the company meet growing customer demand as more healthcare institutions connect to the system. Healthcare IT Solutions GmbH could scale up without making to make a large investment in Information Technology infrastructure. The cloud-based system can now support as many as 500 hospitals and 60,000 physicians.

In Italy, Ospedale di Novara is a public healthcare institution focused on medical research and specialized surgery. The organization wanted to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase infrastructure flexibility to adapt to changing requirements at its 780-bed hospital. At the same time, the more than 2,500 employees of the institution wanted easy, reliable access to essential clinical and administrative systems.

Ospedale di Novara invested in an integrated, virtualized platform with a private cloud to host its most critical data. As a result, the organization has reduced IT-related energy costs by nearly 25 percent, improved infrastructure flexibility, increased security and availability, and regained physical floor space in its data center. Now the hospital can devote more effort and investment into developing new healthcare technologies.

We can see from these examples that technology can help to transform healthcare, while allowing health care industry professionals to overcome current challenges and rapidly respond to changing demands and growing requirements. These three organizations demonstrate that by moving to a secure, cloud-based strategy, the healthcare industry can take advantage of the latest technology, and allow providers to improve the quality of care for everyone involved: doctors, medical facilities, and most importantly, patients.