Weighing opportunity and risk for cloud adoption in healthcare

There’s no argument to be made when it comes to healthcare being a risk-averse industry.

Businesses built around caring for and preserving human life must hold themselves to a higher standard, because at the end of the day, customers aren’t just “end users.” They are patients who are looking to healthcare institutions to deliver the care they need, often at one of the more stressful times in their lives.

As such, healthcare organizations are conservative when it comes to business transformation. The sector lags in the adoption of new and cutting edge technology, falling behind the demands of its customers and the young doctors and IT professionals it wants to recruit.

Modern patients want more transparency in care: one survey found that 65 percent of respondents wanted better access to their doctor, and 63 percent wanted better access to current benefit information. The need for more modern applications based in the cloud is not a new one: in 2016, 86 percent of healthcare organizations were using some type of cloud service.

Still, this transition remains shallow. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey from the same year found that only 39 percent of healthcare professionals believe that the cloud has a meaningful role in the industry. To meet patient needs and provide modern healthcare applications, IT departments and its tech leaders are feeling the pressure to step up to the plate and modernize. On-premises infrastructure systems and data storage remains attractive to some, but change is required.

Healthcare organizations must overhaul IT systems that cannot make the cut and begin a journey to a flexible, cloud-based environment in order to deliver applications in a competitive manner, ensure compliance and data security for their patients and cultivate a first-class workforce.

The Journey Begins with Four Steps

Healthcare technology leaders looking to make the switch to cloud must take a moment to reflect and consider four things:

1. What is your ideal state, and what is your cloud vision for your company? Without a clear perspective on the operational role cloud should have within your organization, it is impossible to move forward.

2. Which solution and partner are right for your company? Choose one that truly wants to extend your businesses while increasing innovation.

3. Do you have a commitment to seeing the strategy you lay out executed in full? Detours and wavering most often lead to dead ends on this journey, so be prepared to follow through.

4. Are you prepared for cultural and personal change? New technologies will not convert everyone, and some turnover is inevitable. Be ready for it.

Here are a few key considerations as the journey continues.

Develop an Agile System

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in the healthcare industry is on an ascendant path. As more tech companies begin marketing modern solutions to the industry, health providers must realize that outdated systems are insufficient to quickly scale and efficiently run these applications. Like all businesses, healthcare organizations realize that meeting customer demands for faster, more streamlined applications requires infrastructure that can respond and scale just as quickly. Deploying new applications that can help improve the business is often hampered by older systems that do not have the speed and flexibility of the cloud. As such, healthcare tech leaders that are committed to providing quick turnarounds for both their developers and customers must consider a modern, cloud-based infrastructure ecosystem.

These concerns are universal across all sectors and businesses, and healthcare companies are no exception. Their relationships with customers (i.e., patients) may be different from other enterprises, but fundamental consumer expectations do not discriminate by industry. The demand for transparency and faster access to information is an economy-wide phenomenon, and healthcare is on its own journey to transform and engage with that movement.

Address Security and Compliance Concerns

For years IT teams have questioned the security capabilities of cloud providers. It is time to exorcise the most common excuse for not moving towards a cloud infrastructure system: security.

Ironically, conversations with health customers reveal that many healthcare IT teams are often more confident about security after moving to cloud. The obvious reason for this is that a modern cloud infrastructure is more secure than its legacy counterparts, for two key reasons.

The first is the enlightened self-interest of cloud providers, whose entire professional reputation hinges on the security of their clients. A breach would be disastrous, and these companies will devote all their resources and technical acumen to prevent one, making a commitment to be on the cutting-edge of cloud computing while offering customers secure apps.

The second reason is the benefits of cloud infrastructure, which is designed with the current technological advances in mind. This includes a multi-layered approach geared to isolate patient records and a simple, standardized operation framework that minimizes the chance for catastrophic human error.

The twin of security is compliance, a huge concern for healthcare. Dealing with the regulatory demands of storing patient data can be an immense undertaking demanding significant investments of time, energy and capital. However, the most onerous aspect of compliance is frequent change in the regulatory landscape. Compared to older, slower moving systems, cloud infrastructure and associated applications are more agile and well suited for quick reconfigurations, reducing the risks of compliance violations and concerns.

Build the Modern IT Team

Attracting top-notch talent is another concern that healthcare shares with other industries. Health organizations looking to recruit skilled physicians, nurses and IT professionals of the next generation should not expect these forward-looking individuals to be content with decades-old applications and infrastructure architectures. Like consumers, workers have their own demands for cutting-edge tools and equipment that will empower them to do their jobs more efficiently and with a higher degree of satisfaction.

Laggards will not be able to recruit new blood, stifling organizational creativity and progressivism. Many organizations might be concerned with the flipside possibility that adopting new technology may lead to turnover among experienced IT staff who are resistant to change.

This is, however, no excuse to hinder growth, innovation and security. Ultimately, healthcare companies must accept that a significant barrier to change in the industry is cultural in nature. Outdated outlooks and fear of the new are holding back adoption of the technologies required for a true revolution.

After this introduction, take a moment to congratulate yourself. The health IT journey that will lead to a stronger, more secure future for your business – and your patients – is now open.

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Resources used:
1. “Ascending cloud: The adoption of cloud computing in five industries”, Economist Intelligence Unit, 2016 (link)
2. “2017 Technology Imperatives For US Health Insurers”, Forrester, April 5, 2017 (link)
3. “2016 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey”, HIMSS Analytics, October 2016 (link)


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