Feb 24 2022

‘The Public Cloud Is a Pattern, not a Place’: Healthcare’s Entry into the Public Cloud

What should small to midsized healthcare systems consider for their organization’s cloud journey?

Cloud adoption in healthcare was considered slow compared with other industries, mostly because of the many commercial off-the-shelf products in use. But recently, healthcare organizations across the U.S. have turned to the cloud to meet evolving patient expectations and increasing data creation, collection and analysis. The use of Software as a Service (SaaS) products has also influenced cloud adoption for clinical and nonclinical applications.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major catalyst for renewed urgency of cloud adoption. As healthcare systems accelerated telehealth programs and set up remote workforces, they needed agile, scalable solutions to support their response to the public health emergency. Hospitals had to track patients, report on infection rates, schedule vaccinations and tackle many more clinical tasks that required a flexible, cloud-based solution.

The current turn to the cloud is going further than nonclinical SaaS solutions, which healthcare organizations had adopted earlier for enterprise resource planning and supply chain management where there wasn’t a need for on-premises infrastructure. Vendors of electronic medical records systems such as Epic, Cerner, MEDITECH and Allscripts are also embracing the cloud.

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Reliance on the cloud in clinical settings is growing, and large healthcare systems are already on their journeys toward better real-time analytics, data storage and innovation in the cloud. Last November, UC Davis Health announced the launch of its Cloud Innovation Center with Amazon Web Services, which aims to provide greater access to digital health.

Small to midsized hospitals that are interested in taking the plunge or increasing their organization’s use of the public cloud can start here. Discover different paths to the public cloud that best suit your healthcare system’s needs.

From Nonclinical SaaS Offerings to Clinical Workflows

Healthcare organizations are no strangers to cloud-based nonclinical SaaS applications in administrative and business settings. But across the industry, an embrace of cloud-based approaches to clinical workflows continues to grow.

Allscripts, for example, extended its partnership with Microsoft to expand its cloud-based solutions, including the support of its EMR. And Google Cloud Platform announced a partnership with MEDITECH for the MEDITECH as a Service (MaaS) solution.

Large healthcare systems that have adopted the cloud for clinical workflows have found they have more opportunities to tackle population health. Predictive, reactive and real-time analytics have become vital tools as more data is created, scrutinized and stored. And it is much easier and more cost-efficient to update analytics tools that are in the cloud.

For small to midsized healthcare systems, the move to the public cloud can be daunting when it’s seen as a static destination. But the public cloud is a pattern, not a place. Regardless of size, most healthcare providers share the same needs related to security, availability and HIPAA compliance.

As they start their cloud journey, organizations can ask themselves these questions: Where can we start with on-premises automation? How do we start implementing cloud-based strategies on-premises that make it easier to migrate workloads to the cloud? Are there opportunities to leverage hybrid cloud solutions from existing on-premises vendors?

Public Cloud for Healthcare

 

Security Is Paramount in Healthcare

A CIO at a large children’s hospital once asked me why he should trust a cloud services provider with the security of sensitive and critical data. My answer: The major CSPs can spend more on security in magnitude than any healthcare organization. Some healthcare organizations may spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars — maybe even millions of dollars, if you’re a large system — on perimeter and internal endpoint security. But the major CSPs can spend in the billion-dollar range every year on security to maintain compliance, offer HIPAA-compliant services and maintain audits for SOC, HITRUST and other certifications.

In a January Twitter poll, HealthTech asked healthcare IT stakeholders what the top benefit of their organization’s migration to the public cloud has been. “Improved security” was the No. 1 answer, at 34 percent.

Cloud-based security can also improve the resilience of a healthcare organization’s cybersecurity response. If a ransomware attack happens, an organization can respond much faster in the cloud than with on-premises infrastructure, and will have a better chance of accessing protected backups.

Each major CSP also offers services that comply with HIPAA and HITECH, which is crucial in healthcare. There are also services with HITRUST CSF certification, adding another layer of compliance and scrutiny. Small healthcare organizations that may have security and privacy concerns about entering the public cloud can find solid assurances with the right partner.

Benefits of the Public Cloud

What small organizations will receive when they start their cloud journey is an ROI of more time and less money spent on resources. Partnering with the right CSP, for instance, can ease the burden on overworked healthcare IT teams that may not have the proper resources to build out and scale a cloud-based solution. IT teams can offload the time spent on backups, updates and security patches to the partner instead.  

Typically, an organization buys technology on a five-year forecast, overpurchasing from the start with the hope that there won’t be drastic business changes, and likely adding to tech debt. But with the cloud, organizations pay for what they use, so there’s less of a chance of overpaying.  

The past two years have forced healthcare organizations to accelerate telehealth adoption, allowing them to see more patients safely and encourage omnichannel engagement. Patients want ease of access to providers and their health information similar to what they get from banks and retailers. The cloud enables healthcare organizations to discover what they can do more effectively without having to spend a lot of money.

In the cloud, healthcare systems can be more agile and effective, and can deliver more new features and products than they ever could on-premises.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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Getty Images: sturtiu (healthcare professionals), Kimiko (clouds)

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