Mar 26 2020

Q&A: Nutanix's Cheryl Rodenfels on the Future of Cloud in Healthcare

While organizations set their sights on hybrid cloud deployment, data security and compliance remain top concerns.

Healthcare organizations are facing increased pressure to drive digital transformation in order to address a variety of clinical and IT needs. And many organizations find that the best way to achieve these goals is by opting for a hybrid cloud model. 

Nutanix, a multicloud solutions company, recently released the healthcare industry findings of its 2019 Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) Report, highlighting healthcare organizations’ plans for adopting private, hybrid and public clouds. Indeed, the findings show that the majority of organizations (87 percent) view hybrid cloud as their ideal IT operating model.

Embracing the cloud has become essential for organizations hoping to deliver the most advanced care for their patients; however, IT teams also understand that compliance must remain top of mind — and that’s influencing future cloud model adoption plans. The industry findings show that over 50 percent of healthcare respondents cited regulations governing data storage as a top factor influencing their organization’s cloud decisions.

As part of HealthTech’s virtual HIMSS coverage, we spoke with Cheryl Rodenfels, CTO for Americas Healthcare at Nutanix, about the ECI findings. She offered insights on what makes hybrid cloud so appealing for healthcare organizations and why, despite many seeing this model as more secure, organizations have been slow to adopt.

HEALTHTECH: Hybrid cloud seems to be on most healthcare organizations’ roadmaps. What makes this such an appealing cloud deployment option?

RODENFELS: Healthcare organizations are constantly looking to improve the patient experience, increase data interoperability and deliver value-based care. In order to achieve this, healthcare organizations need to leverage the power of a flexible and secure infrastructure.

A hybrid cloud model is the most appealing because it enables IT teams to secure patient data and ensure regulatory compliance, and it allows the organization to move at the speed of the cloud, rather than at the speed of their legacy environment. Patients are demanding more digital services. Hospital strategies include adding these services, and the IT roadmap enables the organization to meet patients’ needs. 

HEALTHTECH: Based on this report's data, those in healthcare consider hybrid cloud to be the most secure IT operating model, more so than all other industries. Why?

RODENFELS: In healthcare, regulatory requirements, including the HIPAA, mandate the protection of patient health information, reinforcing the importance of data security and patient privacy. Across the board, security is ranked as one of the top factors driving cloud deployment decisions. 

Although nearly all industries surveyed in Nutanix’s 2019 ECI said they consider hybrid cloud to be the most secure, the percentage was even higher among healthcare respondents. Healthcare organizations chose hybrid cloud as the most secure option almost 33 percent of the time, compared with about 28 percent from all surveyed respondents. 

One reason the healthcare industry considers hybrid cloud to be the most secure IT operating model is because it allows organizations to harden the security parameters based on their organization’s specific compliance policies. The hybrid cloud model also allows them to store their data in the most cost-effective platform. Healthcare organizations need the flexibility to provide the right solution for their clinical applications and IT workloads. One size does not fit all.

MULTICLOUD vs. HYBRID CLOUD: What’s right for your healthcare organization?

HEALTHTECH: Healthcare leads most other industries in multicloud deployments but lags behind in hybrid cloud adoption, despite the industry seeing it as more secure than other models. Why is that?

RODENFELS: Healthcare leads in multicloud deployments because several of their most trusted partners have transitioned application delivery to Software as a Service models and are hosting the infrastructure at the partner’s data center. These include finance, ERP, human resources, supply chain management, service delivery, voice recognition/dictation and learning management platforms. Hospitals negotiate with the providers to manage the risk associated with housing the data and controlling access to the systems. 

Healthcare companies consider hybrid cloud to be the most secure, but they fall behind in adoption of this operating model because they have to assume all of the risk for meeting the compliance standards. 

The ECI revealed that 55 percent of healthcare respondents cited regulations governing data storage as a top factor influencing future cloud model adoption at their organizations. 

Cheryl Rodenfels, CTO Americas Healthcare, Nutanix
Within the next 5 to 10 years, we will see aggressive adoption of hybrid cloud within the healthcare space.”

Cheryl Rodenfels CTO Americas Healthcare, Nutanix

HEALTHTECH: Despite many organizations stating a planned move to a hybrid cloud environment in 2018, there was instead a noticeable uptick in traditional data center usage. What is the reasoning behind this?

RODENFELS: The ECI found that healthcare IT pros rank on-premises, nonhosted private cloud as the second most secure infrastructure, following hybrid cloud. The healthcare sector as a whole continues to be slower in terms of technology adoption because many applications are still developed on legacy application platforms. Several, including the electronic health record and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), require updates at regular intervals. Between the need to run the existing applications and the need to update them regularly — and with all of the other priorities facing the IT teams, including controlling costs — many organizations are keeping their applications on-premises. 

The ECI also indicates that reasons for the slowed pace of hybrid cloud deployment could include the need for better tools to simplify deploying, managing, securing and migrating workloads across disparate infrastructures. The IT teams have a limited amount of time for training and product adoption. Anything they use has to simplify their environment and be easy to administer. 

READ MORE: Discover four ways healthcare is being transformed by the cloud.

HEALTHTECH: How does an organization’s lack of IT skills play into its cloud deployment choices?

RODENFELS: This plays a large role in cloud deployment decisions. Without the right technical skills and experience, the IT team will need to dedicate significant time and resources to training before proper cloud implementation and management can be carried out. Organizations need experienced professionals to capitalize on cloud technology quickly. But unfortunately, because cloud professionals are in high demand, there’s very short supply. Having the right skill sets among your IT team is a huge competitive advantage for cloud deployments. 

HEALTHTECH: As we look ahead, what will the state of cloud be in healthcare in the next decade?

RODENFELS: Within the next five to 10 years, we will see aggressive adoption of hybrid cloud in the healthcare space. Data from the 2019 ECI indicates healthcare companies are confident that the issues associated with tools, cloud skills and other obstacles currently impeding hybrid cloud adoption will be worked out in the near future. 

Keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing virtual coverage of HIMSS20. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation using the hashtags #VirtualHIMSS20 and #CDWHIMSS.

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