UPMC CIO Ed McCallister: 5 thoughts on healthcare in the cloud

The cloud will be a part of healthcare going forward, but questions remain. How much data will go to the cloud? How will information be securely moved to and from the cloud? Here, Ed McCallister, CIO of UPMC in Pittsburgh, offers insight into the promise, risks and future of the cloud in healthcare.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and concision.

Question: What role does the cloud play in health IT today?

Ed McCallister: It offers a different model than healthcare is accustomed to; we are moving the needle toward the cloud, but at a slower pace than most industries. There are three key areas you need to discuss for the cloud to be effective. First, strategic initiatives, such as big data and right sizing applications. Second, infrastructure. Healthcare is moving to a wireless environment. Third, security. One of these areas without the others leads to a big disconnect. Approaching all three at the same time will lead to meaningful use of the cloud.

The cloud will play a major role in sharing data in a secure way. I don't think healthcare is an industry where the public cloud is attractive. We are heading to a hybrid cloud model. Some applications and data will be on-premise, while the cloud will be leveraged for consumer and population health activities.

Q: What are the biggest benefits of the cloud?

EM: The elasticity the cloud offers is the biggest benefit. It allows organizations to scale up and down. It supports collaboration amongst organizations in a very siloed industry. Health information exchanges have been around for a long time, but the on-premise data storage model does not allow for the sharing of information as it pertains to patient care, population health and allowing the consumer to take more control of the healthcare dollar. The cloud also provides software independence.

Q: What are the biggest risks?

EM: Security of data. This is the number one hindrance when it comes to moving forward with the cloud. HIPAA regulations, for example, are a real concern. People outside of healthcare underappreciate what it means when we talk about privacy and security around healthcare data.

That being said, we at UPMC are moving forward with security measures in place. It is really changing our entire approach and staffing model when it comes to security. We are preparing for new challenges surrounding the cloud. We want to react before we see something happening.

I talk about the private cloud versus the public cloud, but the user experience should be seamless if we do our jobs as IT team.

Q: How is UPMC leveraging the cloud?

EM:  UPMC has had a private cloud for approximately 10 years. Many of our key applications are on-premise. We are moving our email to the cloud using Microsoft 365. We also use some of the private cloud vendors. We have a SaaS in the cloud. We take the best-in-class approach to infrastructure.

Q: How do you see the cloud evolving in health IT over the next few years?

EM: I think the speed will absolutely increase. The focus on security closely follows that. Some elements of healthcare will stay on-premise; others will go to the cloud. This hybrid model will accelerate over the next few years. When you talk about UPMC and finding our cloud strategy, it isn't hardwired. Our approach will evolve. We will continue to assess and adjust our infrastructure strategy accordingly.

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