Healthcare News & Insights

Practical advice: Setting cloud strategy in healthcare world

If your healthcare organization is embracing patient-centered care, you have no choice but to embrace the cloud whether it’s a public, private or hybrid. The need for greater collaboration across care providers can only be met via cloud computing. Getting the most out of electronic health records (EHRs) and telemedicine relies on it. And the sheer volume of data growth in the healthcare industry – predicted to be 48% a year through 2020 – makes it practically mandatory. Simply put; traditional IT infrastructure can’t support where health care is going. A secure cloud is a must, and that move toward the cloud is gaining momentum despite the traditional reluctance of healthcare organizations to embrace this technology. In this guest post, Molly True, a healthcare marketing strategist at a provider of advanced network communications that includes cloud computing and managed services to businesses nationwide, offers four important considerations that’ll guide your cloud adoption process in the right direction.

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For organizations that have held the cloud at arm’s length, the industry’s pivot to a cloud-centric IT model will feel like it happened in a flash. But many healthcare organizations have been conducting pilot projects and initial rollouts that have proven successful thanks to cloud solutions designed to meet the healthcare industry’s specific needs. Now they’re ready to take the next step, and your organization may already be at that point or will be there soon. When you do get there, you’ll need a game plan for building and implementing an effective cloud strategy.

Here are four important things to consider:

1. Benefits of cloud for healthcare providers

Migrating business operations or applications from a legacy infrastructure to the cloud helps address business pressures such as large data growth resulting from EHRs and Big Data, budget management, and regulation and compliance requirements that come along with HIPAA requirements. Hosting applications in the cloud can help you scale as you grow, collaborate with partners and patients, store and manage huge amounts of patient data and get a bigger return on your IT investments in the long run.

Benefits aside, transitioning to the cloud can be overwhelming and does come with some challenges that have to be addressed. Many healthcare organizations and hospitals, in particular, have existing legacy systems in place and compliance restrictions that make cloud transitions more difficult to undertake. In addition, moving applications to the cloud must be done in a way that doesn’t risk non-compliance with healthcare regulations, such as HIPAA, and that ensures applications, patient data and networks are all safe and secure.

Ask yourself and your IT team what you’re looking to get out of your business applications by moving them to the cloud and if you’re ready to commit the resources needed to do so. Once you do that, ensure your entire team is on board and you have heard their productivity, business and cloud needs and goals clearly. It’ll be helpful to devise a list of questions for your internal team to consider in determining what they ultimately desire from the cloud. Those questions should center on your existing infrastructure and applications requirements, budget needs, IT support, compliance and security demands, and bandwidth needs, to name a few.

2. Defining a cloud strategy

Setting or simply refining a cloud strategy takes careful planning among your teams. To start, you’ll have to define your cloud project. Once you have your questions addressed from your internal team and your cloud objectives outlined, you can begin searching for a cloud service provider to help with your transition. You’ll want to partner with one that has deep knowledge of the healthcare industry and its regulatory compliance issues. In addition, you’ll want to work with a provider who has experience with hospitals and healthcare organizations of similar size. Ask potential providers the same thorough questions you asked your internal team and more. Understand their offerings, service level agreements, compliance certifications and the security standards they support before locking into an agreement. An effective cloud strategy is built by having input from all internal parties, a defined well-thought-out project and a carefully selected and experienced cloud partner.

3. Public, private or hybrid cloud?

Moving to a cloud infrastructure provides significant business value to hospitals and healthcare organizations whether it be a private, public or a hybrid model. The decision on what platform to implement can be a difficult one. Ask yourself how much IT management and support your facility will need, what aspects of the business need to be effectively secured and ultimately what cloud model will provide the most efficiency, security and scalability for your needs.

Since the public cloud relies heavily on the public Internet this provides challenges for hospitals and healthcare organizations because of the unique sensitivities of securely protecting patient data and the need to run mission-critical applications via the cloud. Most healthcare companies have been reluctant to move any of their infrastructure to a public cloud environment due to security and reliability concerns.

Today, many hospitals use a purely private cloud approach because it’s more secure and allows healthcare CIOs more control over their data and systems. However, it isn’t as scalable as a public cloud or hybrid model, and it can be cost prohibitive for some organizations. Another consideration healthcare companies should include in their cloud evaluation process is whether or not to maintain some of their most secure data and applications on their premise.

The hybrid cloud system is a growing and positive option for hospitals because it melds a combination of a public cloud offering with a private cloud offering where the systems are connected and interoperate with other existing systems. It also allows providers to keep some of their most sensitive data on their premises and some of their applications – those that may not be related to protected health information – in a public cloud environment, while also providing the scalability and security of a private cloud model.

The decision on which cloud model to use will come down to the unique needs and requirements of each organization, and the guidance and direction you get from your internal IT team and your cloud service provider.

4. Does your network support your cloud strategy?

Once you start to implement your cloud strategy you’ll need to ensure your network is up to speed to support sending data and applications to the cloud, and to reach and support various locations, patients and employees. Typically, a single network connection isn’t enough for most healthcare providers. Taking into consideration your network traffic and the demands placed on your network from your cloud transition, you’ll need to rely on a networking partner to determine your Internet connectivity needs.

In addition, you’ll want to ensure connectivity diversity so you have alternate connectivity in the event of the loss of your primary Internet connection. Just as you do for finding a cloud service provider, you can rely on a trusted partner for your Internet connections with specialized experience to look at network traffic needs across your organization. Having a network strategy in place that aligns with your cloud strategy will ensure your applications, business processes, data and network are performing in the most reliable and secure way.

In the near future, cloud computing will continue to be at the center of the transformation of healthcare IT as the efficiencies resulting from the implementation of cloud services help address many of the challenges healthcare organizations are faced with, including the need to meet industry regulations, maintain security, consolidate infrastructure and maximize costs. In addition, transitioning applications to the cloud, allows hospitals and providers to focus on what they do best – healing others, saving lives and providing the best personalized healthcare experience available.

Molly True is a healthcare marketing strategist at Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications that includes cloud computing and managed services to businesses nationwide.

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