Offloading IT headaches to the cloud is a win for healthcare

Moving data from on-premise deployment into the cloud is a tech shift that has seen rapid adoption in a number of industries. Now, even hospital administrators are starting to embrace the value of cloud technologies and are beginning to ask questions in preparation for the shift to the cloud.

In the past, their apprehension seemed to stem from some misconceptions about just how much risk comes with keeping data in the cloud. A Thales Group report showed that people overestimated the danger involved in cloud data storage by 10 percent but underestimated by 24 percent the likelihood that their on-site data would be compromised. The disconnect was further fueled by high-profile security breaches and users' own experiences with email hacks, phishing scams, identity theft and other personal information breaches.

But the biggest catalyst for cloud mistrust has simply been not really knowing how cloud security works. The cloud may feel less secure because, unlike a desktop computer or a local data center server, hospital staff doesn't know exactly where their data is stored. With data sovereignty rules being accounted for, that lack of a physical storage space makes it natural for administrators to question a data center's ability to execute backup policies, hacking prevention and other security protocols. In aggregate, these issues have left many potential cloud users in a fog of distrust.

So it’s no surprise that healthcare decision makers were wary of the cloud. They are well-versed in best practices regarding patient data security and availability. Prioritizing security comes from a familiarity with strict health data regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the serious penalties for noncompliance. They focus on ensuring system and data availability because lives and health depend on systems that must achieve no less than 99.99 percent uptime.

But the winds of change are here. Hospital administrators now recognize that cloud-based solutions can meet the requirements to protect patients’ privacy and still be evenly distributed, resilient, clustered and highly available.

Cross-functional cloud concerns

Cloud buy-in for a healthcare provider can also boil down to what’s in the best interest of the operations staff and administrators. For instance, though hospital IT professionals understand the positives of cloud deployment, they may be uneasy being unable to physically "see" where the facility’s data is stored.

IT staffers are also rightfully concerned about meeting hospital guidelines, restrictions and certifications. Then there’s the pride of ownership. After spending significant time setting up a reliable system, IT staffers might not feel the need to outsource tasks they can do internally.

On the other end of the spectrum, business directors and project owners often favor the cloud and want to leverage the flexibility and speed that it offers. But they may be reticent to pursue cloud solutions due to HIPAA compliance concerns.

Fortunately, cloud-based healthcare data systems support all the security features necessary to comply with hospital rules restrictions and maintain data security best practices. In fact, in several ways, they often surpass on-premise systems.

For example, the cloud can optionally have no single point of failure of the hardware, infrastructure, platform, database or even the data center. That means multiple pieces of hardware in several facilities would have to simultaneously fail in order to create an interruption in service, which is very unlikely. That robustness is not usually true for on-premise systems, which is why healthcare centers are starting to see the benefit in cloud services.

Send IT to the cloud

To help key decision makers understand the advantages of a cloud-based solution, it’s useful to understand its specific benefits. Here are three ways offsite data management benefits hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

1. It frees up in-house IT for bigger projects. Most hospitals have dedicated IT staffs, though they’re often stretched too thin. Therefore, new projects take a backseat until IT can finish ongoing ones, even when the rest of the organization is ready to engage. That’s unfortunate because by adopting a cloud-based approach, IT staffs can handoff time-consuming tasks and invest more time in major projects.

Medstar Health system decided to move some of its patient data to a cloud and keep high-risk, high-priority material internal. The strategy is one that the Maryland-based provider employs to keep hardware replacement costs down and to enable IT teams to complete quick add-ons if more cloud space is needed.

Cloud services free up the project team and enable the IT department to tackle innovative projects for the hospital while cloud services manage daily tasks such as database services, security patches and disaster recovery.

2. It provides more time for practitioners and patients. Hospitals are always seeking ways to be more efficient, cut costs and streamline their supply chains. A cloud ecosystem allows hospitals to implement technologies that are supported by IT but not bound by its timelines or resource constraints. This enables operations executives to deliver value and cost savings to the hospital sooner.

Organizations want to leverage their time and deliver more with the same staff; they want to focus on their clients rather than get bogged down in technology headaches. And they want IT to work on tasks that provide incremental value within their existing systems.

Cloud is a natural fit for each of those goals because it handles all the time-consuming infrastructure and platform administration tasks. This approach can help save time — and lives — by ensuring the system is always available to provide patients the products and medications they need.

3. It is actively monitored around the clock. Cloud systems are secure when they are used safely. One of the best ways to guarantee that security is to actively monitor the systems that secure your data. Today, that’s easier than ever because of the variety of monitoring tools available for cloud platforms, coupled with 24/7 staffing for managed and emergency services such as ambulance transportation.

Our company partners with a high-profile brand to provide round-the-clock active monitoring and proactive maintenance on our cloud infrastructure. This allows us to offer virtual private cloud deployments complete with strict change control management in a private cloud environment, with a secure database that respects both data sovereignty and privacy laws. In a nutshell, this provides the sort of vigilant monitoring that healthcare administrators demand.

Rapid adoption

Just a few months ago, hospital administrators and IT staff were interested in, but unlikely to trust, cloud solutions. 2018 has seen a significant change in the rate of adoption and planning for the value and opportunity that cloud solutions afford. Although there may be an understandable period of adjustment and trust-building in the transition to adopt cloud technology, the cloud transition is in effect and already generating positive consequences.

We have entered a point in time when systems and data are managed more securely in the cloud; when doctors, nurses and administrators have better tools to attend to the medical issues that really matter; and when hospital IT staff can pursue enhanced operations. The healthcare industry — and its patients — all benefit.

Jim Moffat joined TECSYS more than 20 years ago and has worked in software development, systems analysis, project management, client sales, and professional services before embarking on the role of director of TECSYS CLOUD Services. His experience in TECSYS’ R&D, Customer Deliveries, and Customer Services organizations make him familiar with all aspects of TECSYS' Global Operation. For the past three years, Jim has been a leader in TECSYS' rapidly-evolving Cloud Operations & Strategies.

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