Healthcare in the cloud—Top 5 Myths Debunked

Eric Dykes

The cloud has transformed healthcare IT as much as it has other industries. A 2014 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics (part of the Health Information and Management Systems Society) found that 83% of healthcare provider IT departments are using the cloud in some capacity. The number is only growing, and the market may triple by 2020.

Healthcare areas of cloud adoption

HIMSS Analytics survey of cloud computing adoption in healthcare provider organizations. Credit: www.forbes.com

For healthcare providers yet to adopt the cloud, the reasons to hold back are rapidly shrinking. Nonetheless, there are still businesses that would benefit from a cloud migration but have yet to take the plunge.

Collected here are some of the most common points of resistance heard from healthcare IT personnel considering a migration. The overarching themes are concerns over security, privacy, and safety. However, these concerns are largely unfounded in the modern cloud ecosystem, so let’s get to debunking these myths!

1. Cloud Security Breaches of Healthcare Records

Healthcare IT organizations have a natural fear of security breaches. After all, what data is more precious than confidential medical records? Placing that information in the hands of a third-party cloud service provider gives many stakeholders pause. That’s to say nothing of offering it up for remote access by doctors, other personnel, and even patients.

The truth is, a reputable cloud vendor is far more secure than any on-premise solution available to a small or midsize business. Cloud data centers are designed from the ground up for both physical and digital security, and integrate disaster recovery features such as multiple redundant generators and frequent off-premise backups.

Although security breaches do happen, their likelihood is far lower than the possibility of a disaster, break-in, or hardware malfunction on a client’s premises.

2. Cost of Migration and Deployment to the Cloud

Any kind of major shift in operational policy or technology usage requires an investment of resources and time. In the case of the cloud, the migration itself poses some challenges, as does the training of IT and other personnel in proper use of the new paradigm.

Office 365 vs Exchange on-prem uptime

Credit: http://betanews.com

However, once that is complete, most healthcare IT planners find that the costs of keeping their data in the cloud are far less than those of maintaining an on-premise solution. For a relatively low monthly fee, the cloud service provider handles not only the physical upkeep of the servers, but also security updates, patches, and backups. The total cost of ownership of a cloud-based solution is far less than an on-premise system over a period of years.

On premises server vs Azure TCO

Credit: http://betanews.com

3. Cloud HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA compliance is often the biggest worry of medical businesses that have yet to transition to the cloud. The medical industry has unique privacy requirements that go far beyond basic security, and the thought of compromised sensitive medical data can send chills down the spine of any stakeholder.

The federal government actually addressed this concern back in 2013 with the passage of the HIPAA Omnibus rule. Essentially, cloud service providers are now defined as business associates of medical practices. They are subject to the same requirements for HIPAA compliance as couriers of physical documents and other organizations that come into contact with HIPAA-protected information.

Cloud service providers such as Microsoft (Office 365, Azure) and Amazon (AWS), and their partners (like UTG) can now explicitly become HIPAA compliant through certifications like HITRUST (Health Information Trust Alliance). Select a HITRUST-certified cloud service provider, and compliance concerns can be laid to rest.

4. Loss of Administrative Capabilities for Healthcare IT

Unlike older “black box” style cloud applications, today’s cloud computing environment is intended for client-side IT to take an active role in its administration and management. The cloud service provider’s role is as a partner to IT, not a replacement for it, and critical functions like user access management are firmly in the hands of the client.

Especially if migrating from the legacy software systems often found in the healthcare industry, management of cloud-based applications is often far easier than the on-premise solutions they replace. Most vendors feature easy and efficient web-based administrative tools, including the ability to seamlessly scale up and down virtual servers to suit the current business needs.

5. If the Cloud Fails, Our Healthcare Data is Gone

Another very common fear in healthcare organizations is the idea that in the event of a dispute with a cloud service provider, or if the vendor should suddenly go out of business, then data will be held hostage or lost.

When selecting a cloud service provider, as with any vendor, carefully review their contract and terms of service. Reputable providers have specific language to address data availability, and these terms should be carefully examined and understood before signing.

In regards to a provider simply disappearing, the likelihood is slim with major providers. Amazon Web Services, for example, hosts applications ranging from iCloud to Netflix, and a sudden end to the service is practically unfathomable. To completely allay these concerns, cloud-to-cloud backup services are available.

In Conclusion—Advantages of Healthcare in the Cloud

A solid cloud-enabled infrastructure is a cornerstone of the modern workplace. Healthcare organizations just now migrating to the cloud will find a number of immediate, business-changing advantages. IT costs dramatically lower, and the user experience for doctors, personnel, and even patients increases exponentially.

The Cloud Credential Council, a non-profit organization that advocates for cloud computing through certification and education programs, has published an article on healthcare-specific applications of the cloud. Everything from insurance claims to prescriptions is made easier, more efficient, and more effective through the cloud. Cloud adoption is quickly becoming non-optional for medical businesses, as doctors and patients alike are growing to rely on and expect these benefits.

Healthcare Cloud Infographic

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