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Heading for hybrid: the state of cloud in healthcare

Dr. Tim Calahan, Director of Healthcare Product Strategy & Management at Virtustream gives his analysis of the state of cloud in the global healthcare space. 

Dr. Tim Calahan, Director of Healthcare Product Strategy & Management at Virtustream gives his analysis of the state of cloud in the global healthcare space. 

A fundamental change is underway in the healthcare industry. Hospitals, walk-in centers and doctor’s offices are undergoing a digital transformation, integrating their electronic health record (EHR) platforms with new patient engagement systems and emerging precision health platforms. They have three primary goals: improve the quality of care, empower patients to take control of their health, and reduce the cost of IT operations.

The increasing complexity of the healthcare IT landscape is driving healthcare organisations to consider new options that can embrace digital strategies and increase agility while reducing costs. Worldwide, security mandates are understandably strict to protect personal health information, with country-level regulations and requirements adding additional layers of complexity. While on-premises solutions may offer perceived advantages, industry leading healthcare providers are closely examining enterprise cloud options for hybrid and off-premises deployment models that meet or exceed high security and compliance requirements, while offering utility-based billing and cloud-based agility and flexibility. For enabling digital healthcare transformation, enterprise cloud services provide a host of avenues to support healthcare providers. 

Cloud enables healthcare transformation

While there are plenty of drivers for healthcare providers to adopt a cloud solution, there are also several factors inherent to a cloud offering that make this model attractive for more widespread adoption. A cloud solution can enable the transformation of hospitals, walk-in centers and doctor’s facilities by providing benefits that cannot be delivered through an on-premises deployment. Cloud deployments can address the changing budgetary needs of healthcare providers by shifting budgets to an operating model, thereby stabilising IT spend. Not only can a cloud platform cost less than an on-premises option, but it can also provide a greater time-to-value for the investment. This value is seen through lower startup costs, non-disruptive upgrades, increased agility to easily redeploy infrastructure resources, pay-for-use models, and the flexibility to scale-up resources during intensive development and usage, and, in turn, scale-down resources based on an organisation’s needs.

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Enterprise cloud services can also provide the highest service levels for availability. Built with redundancy and business continuity by design, a managed EHR platform, when overseen by an enterprise-class cloud provider, can deliver up to 99.999% service level agreements (SLAs) for infrastructure availability, which is less than 6 minutes of unplanned downtime per year. Conversely, an on-premises solution can face limitations in the speed of deployment and scalability and it could be costly to meet comparable business continuity guarantees.

Hybrid is the way for healthcare IT

Hybrid architectures for mission-critical, highly connected environments are not new. In fact, it is the most common deployment model today. Enterprises regularly leverage and combine legacy on-premises environments with off-premises cloud services. The cloud environment must be thoroughly controlled, blending the best practices, procedures and security standards of both the healthcare provider and the partnering cloud company. It’s important to partner with an enterprise cloud service provider with deep experience working with healthcare organisations, and with experts on staff for planning, ongoing support and consultation.

Also, the application interdependencies need to be well understood. For example, it’s advised to have applications with high data interchange rates or with very low latency requirements to reside in the same location. This means that during the planning and assessment phase of any potential migration it’s critical to keenly understand the application landscape and varying performance requirements. 

When moving any part of the healthcare IT landscape, including the EHR systems, to a cloud solution, it’s imperative to know who manages the applications and the interfaces that keep data moving smoothly between the separate systems. It’s also important to distinguish between the infrastructure operations in addition to the technical and the functional management of the applications. It must be well scoped, correctly implemented and comprehensively managed. When done correctly, the management of the entire healthcare IT landscape can provide the same or better service than an on-premises model, with potentially much lower delivery costs.

What to look for in a cloud provider 

Healthcare organisations should partner with a cloud service provider that offers a full suite of security and compliance capabilities, guarantees the safety and security of patients’ health data, and delivers true “cloud” benefits such as pay-as-you-go, scale-up, scale-down and rapid deployment. Also, make sure there is always someone to call: a 24/7 white-glove service is critical to keeping healthcare IT systems, including EHRs, running around the clock while compressing costs. A 24/7 service will provide for rapid incident resolution, effectively dealing with problems as incidents become apparent. Lastly, healthcare organisations should search for a cloud provider who can monitor and manage the cloud environment to deliver proactive governance and preventative measures to determine potential issues and deal with them before they become a threat. 

By choosing a cloud provider who can provide this level of performance, governance and security along with the utility cost benefits and flexibility of a cloud environment, a healthcare provider can make a positive impact on its current IT infrastructure.  Additionally, the healthcare provider can efficiently and effectively modernise its systems and applications and transform IT to be future-ready, freeing the provider to put its attention on what matters most – the health and wellness of its patients.  

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