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Healthcare businesses and facilities may be the last holdouts in the global march into the cloud.

Why?

CIOs of these healthcare institutions had security and privacy concerns.

In their infancy, cloud solutions were popping up everywhere, and security wasn’t a big concern. But to be fair, cybersecurity wasn’t top of the list on the public’s mind either. Those were the days when we saw a movie or two with a black-hat hacker that the FBI or another agency had drafted to “get the bad guys” and that’s about it. But hacking hadn’t yet affected the lives of millions.

Now, global computer viruses hit the evening news on a regular basis and CEOs of major internet platforms seem to be testifying before Congress on a regular basis.

So it’s understandable that the CIOs of healthcare organizations are a little leery of moving everything to the cloud.

Having said that, there has been one significant change in cloud computing since the “wild west” days of its beginnings. Security has become a major focus of data centers across the nation. As a result, the security posture of those data centers has increased dramatically. For example. Did you know that now the U.S. Department of Defense uses Amazon’s AWS service to host and secure files marked “Classified”?

That’s a BIG change from the days when the U.S. government had to have all its data hosted on its own data centers.

Why does this matter to a healthcare organization?

It shows that hosting data and applications in the cloud is no longer a big risk. In fact, cloud-hosted files, machines, and applications  – such as GE Centricity – are now as safe or safer than virtual machines, files, and software that a healthcare organization hosts on a server in their facility.

Why is this the case?

Because cloud providers have made substantial investments in security and compliance.

These investments have resulted in cloud environments that often have a higher security and compliance posture than their in-house counterparts and can be easily and cost-effectively maintained.

Where Healthcare Organizations Can Begin Leveraging the Cloud

Because of the historical skepticism by healthcare network administrators, it’s valuable to show that the cloud can be safely utilized by healthcare. By dipping one toe into the waters of cloud computing, a CIO of a healthcare organization can attain proof of concept and then be able to take the next step in investing in cloud assets for his/her organization.

Usually, this “one foot at a time” approach begins with moving functions that are not critical and are not as demanding from a security/compliance standpoint to the cloud first. There are parts of a healthcare organization’s workflow that are not subject to the same stringent protocols as EHR. These functions can be moved into the cloud as “proof of concept” and used to show the organizational leadership the advantages of cloud computing for healthcare IT.

What Problems Does Cloud Computing Solve For A Healthcare Business?

  • InteroperabilityHealthcare organizations across the nation need to move files easily from one organization to the next. Until the advent of secure cloud computing, this was only a dream. Each company had its own systems, protocols, and formats. As a result of this, moving a patient file from one organization to the next required photocopies, faxes, messengers, mail, email, and lots of time invested in re-inputting data into the next organization’s system. In short, the computers didn’t “talk” to each other very well, and that cost organizations thousands of dollars each year. Cloud capability can overcome that problem today – allowing organizations to access, utilize, modify, store, and collaborate on current and legacy files without worry about file or system compatibility.
  • Monitoring of Function – In the past, it has been difficult to stay on top of the minute-by-minute operation of an organization’s IT functionality and security. Today’s cloud solutions resolve that challenge by allowing continuous remote monitoring of the data and applications within their cloud environment. Now an organization can see analytics relating to the usage of its cloud assets and their efficiency.
  • Security  – As security protocols for healthcare and healthcare-related businesses become more stringent, it becomes more costly for companies to implement, maintain, and monitor their security posture with in-house infrastructure and a team of internal IT employees. As we have previously mentioned, data centers have invested in secure architecture. Moving to the cloud allows a healthcare organization to leverage leading-edge security without having the in-house costs associated with that level of security.
  • Data Storage and Mobile Access – The way healthcare workers are doing their jobs is changing. In this age of mobile devices, no one wants to be chained to a desktop computer or workstation. By leveraging cloud technology, healthcare professionals can have secure, compliant access to data through their laptop computers, tablets, or smartphones – freeing them geographically and allowing them to provide faster patient care.

What Do You Know About Cloud Architecture For Healthcare Organizations?

To begin, let’s make note that there are three approaches to cloud computing – private, public, and hybrid. Let’s compare it to storage space a family might have for some extra furniture. They have furniture that they don’t want to store at home, so they have three choices. They can either build their own private storage unit in the backyard, they can rent a storage unit from a local company that offers secure units to the public, or they can do a little of both – keeping some furniture at home and storing some in the public unit. The third option – keeping some furniture at home and sending some to the local storage unit – is similar to a hybrid cloud approach.

Most healthcare organizations today are in a hybrid cloud scenario. They have some data and applications that they are storing and using on-site, but they also have assets in the cloud.

Their cloud footprint makes it easier for their IT staff to maintain and monitor their IT assets, and Software as a Service option within the cloud save cost and time invested in updates, licensing, and upgrades.

While there are many healthcare organizations that have made a complete transition to the cloud, a hybrid cloud approach is likely to be the most popular for some time to come. By moving some of their workflows into the cloud, organizations can use technology that allows them to move EPHI in a secure and compliant format from one organization to another while doctors and other health professionals collaborate on a patient’s case. This approach to cloud capability and architecture makes things easier for the organization’s staff and enables them to provide faster care to their patients.

What’s the Future for the Cloud in Healthcare Information Technology?

Because cloud computing can leverage nearly limitless computing capability and data utilization, healthcare companies will begin to realize the benefits of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. With vast amounts of data to crunch, the cloud will be utilized to take thousands of points gathered in analytics and organize those data points into insights that will change the way organizations run, how staff does their jobs, and how patient care is provided. Here is a small list of the benefits that healthcare organizations are currently receiving because of their operations within a cloud architecture.

  • Disaster Recovery Capability
  • Scalable Storage
  • Population Health Management Functionality
  • Secure Health Data Sharing
  • Patient Identity Matching
  • Freeing Up Real Estate Within the Facility
  • Interoperability
  • Scalability
  • Lowered Operational Costs
  • Precision Medicine & Image Analysis Enhancements
  • Advanced Analytics
  • Full Featured Software as a Service for EHRs
  • Provision of Convenience and Choice for Patients
  • Communication with Patients – Meeting Modern Expectations

If a Healthcare Organization Invests in Cloud Computing, What IT Support Solutions Are They Going to Require?

  • Design – If a healthcare institution is moving to the cloud, they’re going to need an IT consultant that specializes in Healthcare IT to design or redesign their network, their assets within the cloud, and how the two systems interface.
  • Interface Development Over Time – Because Healthcare IT is a fast-growing technology sector, a cloud implementation is not a “one and done” project. Instead, continual development is required as new in-house and cloud technologies and strategies come on the market.
  • Compliance – Although the data centers used by healthcare facilities are up-to-date regarding compliance, it’s essential that a healthcare institution have an IT specialist – either on their staff or outsourced – that understands and can manage their ongoing compliance.
  • Maintenance – Updates, upgrades, patches, licensing, machine repair and replacement – all of these daily IT “chores” have to be done and they cannot be left to automation. While automated tools are utilized, it’s still essential for an IT specialist to oversee each element of IT maintenance to ensure that there is nothing left undone and that nothing is done that creates a vulnerability or compliance issue.
  • Streamlining – What good is cloud computing if it doesn’t make the workflow easier for an organization’s staff and enable better patient care? Optimization is the reason that the human element has to be in the mix. A healthcare IT specialist will work with both the technology and the healthcare professionals to simplify complexities and streamline their internal work processes.
  • Overall Management – A CIO often doesn’t have the time to do all of the “grunt work” necessary to keep an IT system – on-premises and in the cloud – running efficiently. He or she has to oversee the bigger picture strategies that will enable the organization to grow. IT specialists are needed that have an understanding of how healthcare organizations operate and how technology is harnessed to support the day-to-day operations of institutions that provide health services. Sometimes an organization meets their IT management challenge by hiring a large IT staff, but this can be very costly, and good people are hard to find. Another avenue of IT management is outsourced IT support. In this model, a healthcare organization hires a professional IT management team to provide all the IT support, helpdesk and troubleshooting the organization needs in return for a monthly payment. This outsourced model has historically worked well for healthcare organizations working within the cloud because some of their IT assets are already remote and it saves them in labor costs and downtime.

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