Why the future of healthcare is in the cloud — 8 Qs with 3M's Mike Gooch

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Many healthcare organizations have hesitated to adopt cloud-based applications due to a variety of issues including security, performance and productivity. However, thanks to technology advances, today's cloud solutions offer numerous advantages over on-premises technology applications.

Becker's Hospital Review recently spoke with Mike Gooch, senior business manager at 3M HIS, about why now is the time for healthcare to move to the cloud.

Note: Responses edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has changed that makes the cloud so important in healthcare?

Mike Gooch: In the past, healthcare providers felt that deploying applications on premises was best for security and performance. A lot of that perception was driven by performance. When you look at clinical applications, getting information into the hands of providers and back-office staff like medical coders is critical for productivity. Billing and accounts receivable are improved with productivity, so organizations don't want to sacrifice performance. 

Although organizations used to have to balance security and performance with cloud applications, that's no longer an issue. Given the maturity of the cloud, security is as good and often better than on-premises systems. Similarly, cloud performance is on par with what you can get on premises and sometimes it's even better. 

Q: What's the true cost of on-premise solutions? 

MG: Quantifying the cost of on-premises solutions is difficult. When you look at the total cost of ownership, the human resources required to make applications work is one of the biggest expenses. In a data center, there are many different roles such as database administrators, system administrators, the storage team, the operations team and more. Yet, it's hard to allocate their work to specific applications versus global tasks. 

We encourage customers to look at the human resources associated with on-premises applications, as well as the cost of the servers, virtual machines, operating systems, and maintenance. It's also important to consider the cost of refreshing technology every three to five years. The fees that we charge customers for our cloud solutions build all that in, so  there are no extra fees for an OS upgrade or a technical refresh. 

Q: Can cloud-based solutions create cost savings? 

MG: We have a very large customer base. Each organization wants to accomplish the same goals. Since they are using different tools and standards, their costs vary. When we go to the cloud, we standardize those costs. We're building with the same tools, using the same security scanning and provisioning products in the same way. In addition, moving to the cloud eliminates a lot of the shadow IT that can pop up in organizations using on-premises products. 

Q: How do cloud solutions affect IT teams?

MG: Security is always top of mind for IT teams. One key issue is how cloud vendors fit with an organization's security posture. The advantage of a vendor like 3M handling security is that we manage and validate OS and security updates against our products, so we don't introduce issues while enforcing our high security standards. This means that healthcare providers need to work closely with their solution vendors to ensure that their security standards are being met.

Shifting to the cloud also enables IT teams to move away from service delivery and to focus on strategic initiatives. Something I've been hearing more from CIOs and VPs is that they want to focus more on providing healthcare, rather than running a data center. 

Q: How can the cloud enhance security?

MG: As a vendor, we conduct our own scanning and monitoring, ensuring those scans don't sacrifice performance or cause downtime. We know our product very well, so we validate and test updates. In addition, we ensure all data is encrypted in transit and at rest, which also means that all data must be encrypted prior to leaving our customers’ data centers.  

Q: What level of agility does the cloud provide?

MG: There are different ways of thinking about agility. With agile development, teams release new functionality on a regular basis, typically every week or two. In our cloud platform, we have a regular scheduled maintenance window where we apply updates and new cloud improvements to the benefit of our customers.  Agility is also the ability to maintain focus on a project, while evaluating new technology. The cloud helps organizations get more done with the same number of resources because we take away the burden of IT service delivery. Now IT teams can turn their attention to back burner projects.

Q: How does the cloud help with disaster recovery?

MG: Disaster recovery can be handled in multiple ways. The traditional approach is backups and restores. Although we can do those in the cloud, we can also quickly deploy machine images and automate recovery processes in a standard way. The consistency of our approach makes a big difference for disaster recovery. We can recover our solution very quickly because we use the same methodology across all customers at scale. 

Q: Can the cloud increase operational efficiency and how so?

MG: Efficiency is the ability to complete projects faster, with fewer resources. In an on-premises deployment, acquiring and provisioning hardware, installing software applications and applying security can take weeks or months. Our cloud offering is highly reproducible and can be installed quickly, our goal is to deploy our cloud system in two weeks or less so that it can be ready for connectivity and implementation.

Root cause analysis can also be time consuming for on-premises solutions. Since all our builds are designed the same way for all our customers, we can quickly identify the root cause of problems. Our longest root cause analysis to date has been three or four hours. We've seen over a 90 percent reduction in the resolution of system outages with our cloud solution, compared to on-premises deployments. 

Conclusion

3M HIS has been developing its cloud technology for over a decade and is continually looking for cloud-first opportunities to develop functionality at scale across all its customers. "Today in our cloud platform we currently offer 3M 360 Encompass and 3M Coding and Reimbursement System. These allow customers to focus more on business outcomes and strategic initiatives and less on delivery of IT solutions," Mr. Gooch said.

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