Healthcare IT Leaders and the Cloud: Cautious Yet Optimistic


Healthcare IT Leaders and the Cloud: Cautious Yet Optimistic

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Cloud Computing  |  May 17, 2013

As healthcare IT leaders move forward with digitizing their electronic records, cloud computing is increasingly being considered a viable option for many provider organizations. There are clear business benefits of moving to the cloud, including the opportunity to reduce upfront capital expenditures, scale up or down based on business needs, improve service with SLA guarantees, and support workforce collaboration and mobility.

But issues around privacy, compliance regulations and security are still being addressed, giving some healthcare organizations reason to pause when they hear the words “cloud computing.”

Yet, the global healthcare cloud computing market is witnessing a surge in the adoption of technology and cloud computing, which is forecast to reach $5.41 billion by 2017, according to a Markets and Markets report. The market is currently dominated by software as a service (SaaS (News - Alert)) providers such as Carestream Health, Inc. and GE Healthcare.

Despite trepidation among many healthcare organizations, cloud computing is estimated by analysts to serve as a boon to the healthcare industry and the market is witnessing increased adoption because the benefits outweigh the perceived risks.

For example, EarthLink is seeing more healthcare organizations adopt cloud-based services, with increased demand in particular for services including cloud infrastructure hosting, backup and recovery and virtual desktop service/desktop as a service, according to Vishal Sharma, vice president of IT services for EarthLink

 “We are seeing the adoption of cloud-based services by healthcare organization on  the rise as these services provide tremendous cost benefits, agility, access to latest technology innovation, stringent security  and better service levels,” says Sharma. “In most cases, EarthLink can provide better resiliency and uptime than a healthcare organization’s internal IT department simply because of economies of scale, the availability of the latest technologies and the ability to make applications available ‘as a service’ model.”

For instance, the Autism Society of North Carolina Services has deployed an MPLS network, voice services and NEC (News - Alert) voice equipment and cloud hosting from an EarthLink Business customized IT services solution.

“The cloud has definitely changed the way that we are doing business; it has really brought us full circle from the old mainframe days. It’s changed business very recently for us when we’ve gone to an Exchange server and being able to access our data remotely is a much more efficient use of time; security and safety is also better,” says Tracey Sheriff, CEO of Autism Society of North Carolina Services.

HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act) compliance is changing the way healthcare organizations such as the Autism Society do business, making sure they are not only compliant to avoid fines but also to keep individuals’ private health information protected.

Federal and state laws and industry regulations require strict controls on what kind of data can be stored, who can access it and where it can be stored. While HIPAA has increased the complexity of compliance issues in the cloud, healthcare organizations can reap many benefits from cloud-based services as long as they choose the right provider.

“We have to realize that cloud computing is platform where we can build solutions and services which can be made compliant to these kind of regulations,” explains Sharma. “The cloud being not secure is more of a perception issue and is prevalent across all industry verticals. All the challenges around confidentiality of patient information, compliance and interoperability can be overcome by doing proper due-diligence by selecting the right technologies and cloud service provider that offers a high degree of security and compliance.”

While the cloud is making inroads with healthcare organizations, other healthcare IT leaders are taking a cautious approach.

“Like most healthcare customers, we are intrigued by it, but we haven’t moved anything to the public cloud yet,” says Scott MacLean, deputy CIO of Partners Healthcare in Boston. 

Partners has one major cloud-based application in revenue cycle management that is hosted at the vendor site (Siemens (News - Alert) Healthcare, Malvern, Pa.), which he describes as a private, corporate hosting arrangement; as well as software-as-a-service applications, with appropriate business associate agreements, at the departmental level.

Over the next 12 to18 months, Sharma expects to see adoption rising as healthcare organizations start seeing the benefits of using cloud services especially around collaboration, faster access to patient information, data security and mobility through use of mobile devices.

He summarizes: “We have no doubt that healthcare applications backed up by cloud infrastructure will provide better service to their patients, providers and customers.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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