Moving healthcare to the cloud: Why it makes sense
Part 2 of 5 of “Moving Healthcare to the Cloud”
As I presented in the opening message in part 1 of the “Moving Healthcare to the Cloud” blog series, healthcare IT is in a crisis. The good news is, help is available to address the issues healthcare organizations, and their third-party vendors face—and it comes in the form of cloud computing. From the perspective of enhancing patient services as well as internal and patient communications, the future of healthcare is definitely in the cloud.
Nemi George, the Senior Director of Information Security & IT Governance for Pacific Dental Services, provides one specific example: “A key area in which we see the cloud helping us is with our medical imaging,” says George. “Today, a local server is used to capture images and then synchronizes nightly to the data center. Using a cloud service for imaging significantly reduces the cost and the speed to retrieve image files while also allowing access across multiple platforms without the dependency on location.”
As your organization begins its journey to the cloud, the planning should first involve a close look at the top-level ROI. It’s important to know why it makes sense to move to the cloud.
“In line with our risk methodology and cloud strategy, we are comfortable moving applications to the cloud,” George says. “Our focus is on applications that require a high level of resilience and also general business apps that we seek to mobilize, such as Workday and Box, that offer a mobile experience without the dependency of a VPN.”
Cloud Value Goes Beyond Reduced Cost
Most think of the cost savings first, but that’s not the top benefit of the cloud. Other returns will prove to be much more valuable:
- Improved system and app availability—allowing doctors, nurses and support staff to work more efficiently so they can spend more time focused on patient care.
- Enhanced ability to manage risk—with system protections that secure sensitive medical records and personal patient data.
- Increased ability to employ compensating controls and governance—to ensure compliance with regulations and to avoid costly fines.
After considering the top-level benefits, the next things to consider for moving to the cloud are the tactical measures. Here, the objective is to reduce the number of on-premises data center systems required to run the organization.
Not all healthcare apps are ready to be moved to the cloud. You will likely decide to keep one or two on-premises. Perhaps it will make sense to set up an integrated hybrid IT infrastructure with a mix of cloud apps and on-premises apps.
“There are a number of applications such as our core practice management and finance applications that will remain on premises for a number of reasons,” George points out. “These include our legacy application architecture and applications already billed for decommissioning as well as applications that rely on a VPN or sit behind a corporate firewall for security reasons.”
Most Apps Now Safe to Run in the Cloud
For years, availability, privacy and security were cited by healthcare organizations as the reasons for delaying or jettisoning the idea of moving their apps to the cloud. But AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM and other cloud providers are all proving this premise wrong. In 99% of the cases, apps can and should run in the cloud!
As we saw in our first post, the inability to hire sufficient technical resources is a critical factor in healthcare organizations deciding to move to the public cloud. Hiring internal technical resources with the expertise to design, deploy and support an on-premises infrastructure is costly, and keeping them on-board is difficult. They need constant training to keep up with the latest technologies, and those that are really good will likely grow bored working on just one infrastructure.
It’s also important to note that the rate of innovation in the public cloud is unmatched. For instance, AWS ECS (Elastic Container Service) was launched in 2015. A short time later, the AWS Lambda Computing function-as-a-service offering was made available. These lightweight, yet powerful services are proving to be a big ally for organizations seeking to increase IT agility and decrease IT costs.
Here are two recent examples:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services created a cloud-based analytics platform that eliminated $5M in underutilized infrastructure spending, according to Jessica Kahn, the director of the data and systems group at CMS.
- Children’s Mercy in Kansas City uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud services to host an app and data that save lives of at-risk pediatric patients by tracking them after they leave the hospital, according to Richard Stroup, Children’s Mercy director of informatics.
The success of the cloud for these two organizations echoes the success of George and Pacific Dental Services. “The cloud in itself will not impair our security or our compliance,” says George. “And if managed appropriately with the right level of monitoring, oversight, and governance, migrating to the cloud should reduce our costs.”
With results like this, it’s time for other healthcare organizations to dive in!
In our next ‘Moving Healthcare to the Cloud’ blog, we will examine how to define a cloud migration project. This includes identifying who needs to be involved, what applications should make the short list to move to the cloud, and where’s the best place in the cloud for your organization.