Rethinking the Meaning of Cloud Computing for Health Care: A Taxonomic Perspective and Future Research Directions

Background: Cloud computing is an innovative paradigm that provides users with on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources such as servers, storage, and applications. Researchers claim that information technology (IT) services delivered via the cloud computing paradigm (ie, cloud computing services) provide major benefits for health care. However, due to a mismatch between our conceptual understanding of cloud computing for health care and the actual phenomenon in practice, the meaningful use of it for the health care industry cannot always be ensured. Although some studies have tried to conceptualize cloud computing or interpret this phenomenon for health care settings, they have mainly relied on its interpretation in a common context or have been heavily based on a general understanding of traditional health IT artifacts, leading to an insufficient or unspecific conceptual understanding of cloud computing for health care. Objective: We aim to generate insights into the concept of cloud computing for health IT research. We propose a taxonomy that can serve as a fundamental mechanism for organizing knowledge about cloud computing services in health care organizations to gain a deepened, specific understanding of cloud computing in health care. With the taxonomy, we focus on conceptualizing the relevant properties of cloud computing for service delivery to health care organizations and highlighting their specific meanings for health care. Methods: We employed a 2-stage approach in developing a taxonomy of cloud computing services for health care organizations. We conducted a structured literature review and 24 semistructured expert interviews in stage 1, drawing on data from theory and practice. In stage 2, we applied a systematic approach and relied on data from stage 1 to develop and evaluate the taxonomy using 14 iterations. Results: Our taxonomy is composed of 8 dimensions and 28 characteristics that are relevant for cloud computing services in health care organizations. By applying the taxonomy to classify existing cloud computing services identified from the literature and expert interviews, which also serves as a part of the taxonomy, we identified 7 specificities of cloud computing in health care. These specificities challenge what we have learned about cloud computing in general contexts or in traditional health IT from the previous literature. The summarized specificities suggest research opportunities and exemplary research questions for future health IT research on cloud computing. Conclusions: By relying on perspectives from a taxonomy for cloud computing services for health care organizations, this study provides a solid conceptual cornerstone for cloud computing in health care. Moreover, the identified specificities of cloud computing and the related future research opportunities will serve as a valuable roadmap to facilitate more research into cloud computing in health care.

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Rethinking the Meaning of Cloud Computing for Health Care: A Taxonomic Perspective and Future Research Directions