Chasing the Cloud in Healthcare

John Lynn

In healthcare IT, we have seen a wide spectrum of organizations’ views on the cloud. Despite initial reluctance, many CIOs are now chasing the cloud in healthcare in all that they do. It is clear why there was (and still is, for a few) some reluctance to fully embrace the cloud in healthcare. All of the reasons a healthcare organization should move to the cloud are also reasons a CIO could give for not moving to the cloud. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Security: Security was an incredible excuse that many organizations gave for not joining the cloud. There was and is something that feels more secure about keeping your servers and data in your own data centers where you can see them. While hosting your own servers might feel more secure, it has become very clear that in-house data centers cannot invest in security and security personnel at the same level as a world-class cloud option. In almost all cases, cloud security is better than in-house.

  • Interoperability: Another example is interoperability. Many CIOs liked to argue that a cloud-hosted application was much harder to connect to outside applications. While this may have been true when cloud applications were trying to connect to myriad in-house applications that were not designed to be interoperable, the same is not true as cloud-to-cloud interoperability becomes the norm. Plus, most cloud applications today are built with external interoperability in mind and some even come with the interoperability already built in. Moreover, the next generation of IoT devices and other health sensors are all being built on the cloud and likely will be hard to connect to a local environment.

  • HIPAA: HIPAA was another excuse that many have used not to go to the cloud. While there are HIPAA considerations relevant to the cloud, HHS has made it very clear that cloud hosting is acceptable under HIPAA. If someone says they cannot go to the cloud in healthcare because of HIPAA, dive a little deeper. This likely isn’t the real reason they do not want to use that system in the cloud.

  • Cost: Cost has been another major fear for those not wanting to join the cloud. This fear has subsided as the costs of cloud hosting have fallen. Organizations face bigger cost challenges when they overlook the total long-range costs and instead just look at the limited short-term costs of each option. While there may be a few exceptions in imaging and genomics, the total cost for a cloud system is rarely more than for in-house options.

  • Access to data: Access to health data in a disaster is another common excuse for avoiding the cloud. While disaster planning is an important part of your move to the cloud, we have seen just as many incidents of downtime with locally hosted applications as we have with cloud applications.

It is easy to see how each of these reasons is a double-edged sword that can be used by a CIO to justify whatever direction they want to go. However, this thinking is quickly getting debunked as more and more organizations move to the cloud. Plus, it does not account for the benefits of scalability, a smaller CapEx hit, and the reduced staffing needs organizations enjoy as they move to the cloud in healthcare.

While most organizations are moving to the cloud in healthcare, we should not suggest that the cloud is without its challenges. Security is better in the cloud, but cloud security is still important and has its own nuances that need to be addressed. Cloud services require more detailed contracts that outline access to and ownership of data. The costs in the cloud need to be managed appropriately so that they do not unexpectedly balloon out of control. Despite these challenges, it is no surprise that healthcare organizations are still chasing after the cloud and all of its benefits.

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