Positives outweigh concerns as shift to cloud continues

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More and more healthcare organizations are turning to cloud strategies to gain efficiencies as IT managers seek to make smart choices.


Healthcare organizations are embarking on an inexorable journey to the cloud – past reluctance to relinquish control of key patient and business information has given way to strategic moves to leverage the benefits of the cloud.

More and more organizations are looking to move more of their operations to the cloud, but still struggle with data security issues and worry about sufficient availability.

The data tells the story
A 2018 survey by HIMSS Analytics predicted that the majority of electronic medical records would be hosted in the cloud at the start of this decade, and this prediction appears to be borne out by other barometers of cloud usage in the healthcare industry. health.

According to an online survey conducted last July by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), 82% of healthcare IT leaders said their organizations rely on the cloud in some way. Nearly 10% said they were “all-inclusive” on the public cloud, while 60% are migrating to the cloud taking a hybrid approach, with some of their data in the cloud and some still kept on-premises.

The global healthcare cloud computing market is expected to grow at a rate of 18.7%, reaching $76.8 billion by 2026, predicts a study by ResearchandMarkets.com.

A 2018 HIMSS Analytics survey found that 37% of respondents said their motivation for moving to the cloud included disaster recovery support; 25% said the cloud reduces current IT maintenance costs; A further 25% said it reduced reliance on on-site staff or IT expertise; and 13% use the cloud because of the benefits of always-available applications or services.

The financial industry’s move to the cloud gives an indication of the potential growth trajectory of cloud computing in healthcare. A 2021 survey of IT professionals worldwide in this industry found that the “vast majority” of them use some form of public cloud, with those in the United States leading the way. They cite resiliency, improved staff productivity, and improved regulatory compliance as key reasons for migrating to the cloud.

Cloud Awareness Rises
Tim Brown, director of business intelligence at Infor, a cloud software provider, says the discussion about migrating to the cloud in healthcare is shifting to how best to transfer electronic health records and patient scheduling systems. corporate resources to offsite clouds. “These are the two major systems used to sustain the environment today,” Brown said. “Most vendors are on the verge of deploying one or both in the cloud.”

Brown says he sees the move to the cloud happening much faster in the financial industry than in healthcare, but some healthcare is moving ahead. “Clinical systems like Epic and Cerner are starting to gain momentum to take what’s in the data system and migrate it to the cloud,” he says. “The key element for this to happen is to enable connectivity with the interfaces. It’s a complex environment. Health is like a mini-city; it provides everything from caregiving to nutrition, so you need a stream of apps.

Brown recently helped lead a cloud migration roundtable with CHIME. “We asked [CIOs] where they are now with the cloud migration and where they expect to be in three years. They all had different answers,” he says. They mostly said they were trying to figure out what was right for them, given budget constraints. Executives who have recently spent huge amounts of money on servers want to squeeze some of the lifecycle out of that purchase first, he says.

Others have already migrated. A few years ago talking about the cloud was “the buzz” with the C suite, but now it’s just talking. said Brown. IT departments are beginning to plan how to achieve this. The constant message from all of them is, “we don’t want to be in the data center business.” They also “all really see the cloud as the future.”

Challenges and Benefits
Brown says the journey to the cloud should be seen as an evolution. CIOs can’t just snap their fingers and move all of their applications at once. “It’s too big an elevator. They look at their application lifecycle and ask themselves, “Is this cloud-ready? They look for what is viable to move; and not taking what they have in their data center and moving it to the cloud,” he says.

Scalability will be one of the biggest benefits when everything becomes cloud-based, Brown says. There will be the ability to scale quickly and flexibly with the cloud. “Think in terms of size and scale. If an organization goes through change and change, it can grow very quickly,” he says. “Today it is constrained by the data server. In the cloud, it can scale cloud usage up and down as needed. This will be especially useful for mergers and acquisitions. It will save you money and won’t require you to invest in a big server, especially if you don’t have need the biggest server only for a while.

There are challenges to migrating to the cloud, Brown notes. To begin with, “there are so many competing projects, and only so much time and money to work on given projects. When you start bringing the cloud into the picture, there are changes in roles and Organizations are just beginning to understand how to manage this cloud environment or other service-based organizations, so it’s a bit of a learning curve.

There doesn’t seem to be any difficulty convincing executives to use the cloud. “It’s not really a hard sell,” Brown says. “On the other hand, people in the organization itself may have concerns or be reluctant. It could be based on a security incident they read about in the media or some type of outage that affected other organizations, and it makes them stop and question their decision. But overall, organizations are doing pretty good due diligence.

Different types of cloud approaches
Scott MacLean, senior vice president and CIO of Medstar Health, says most of Medstar’s applications — a delivery system with more than 120 entities and 10 hospitals — have been in the cloud for more than four years. Many Medstar applications reside in Software as a Service (SaaS) clouds.

MacLean still has enterprise resource planning (ERP) on-site, albeit in a co-located data center in Northern Virginia. “So it’s not really the cloud, but it’s almost like a private cloud that we rent – not far off,” he says.

MacLean says when talking to other healthcare system leaders about migrating to the cloud, many do the same. “There are things you can put in Azure or AWS, no problem. There are things that are software as a service, no problem; and then it’s just things that don’t work [in the cloud] again,” he said. “There are just certain things that need to be in place. And it’s usually because of a latency issue.

“Things that fall into this category are typically clinical engineering, biomedical devices, and some telephony components that need to be onsite, depending on the solution.” When it comes to the cloud, “I think everyone is struggling with it,” MacLean says. “And it really depends on the size and complexity of the applications you have for your organization.”

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