Organizations need to Adopt the Cloud to Adapt to the Speed of Change
The cloud is not new. You are likely already very familiar with ‘the cloud,’ whether or not you realize it. Your e-mail (e.g. Hotmail), streaming service (e.g. Netflix or Spotify), files sharing platform (e.g. DropBox), and video conferencing service (e.g. Zoom) are all cloud-based services. Even apps like Microsoft Office, which formerly centered around applications and data hosted on a personal computer, are now accessible online via the cloud, via Microsoft 365. In healthcare, you may even be using a cloud-based EMR system across your entire system. Organizations can benefit by adopting technologies in the same way as people. If organizations adopt a “cloud-first” mindset, then they could evolve with the current speed of change.
‘The cloud’, to simplify, is just a series of networked on-demand remote servers operating together. Access to cloud hosted resources happens online, not from local device storage. Resources could range from hosting data, running applications, or delivering content or services. Remote data centers, local private network, or a mixture of both can house these remote network services.i You are likely more familiar with the cloud-based solutions that are SaaS (Software as a Service).
In previous articles we’ve articulated the benefit of adopting SaaS for healthcare organization.ii SaaS enables a level of big data analytics that is nearly impossible for even large healthcare organizations to do in-house. SaaS can put the power of such analysis into the palm of a provider’s hand in the form of smartphone or tablet applications. Because SaaS solutions rely on the cloud, they uniquely can help optimize care delivery. In order for SaaS to benefit organizations, they must be first willing to see the value in the cloud and trust it.
In our personal lives, many of us adopted cloud-based solutions without questioning their value. Consider for example how our cable or satellite TV providers serve up ‘content’ (including base level and premium on-demand channels from their “cloud” so you no longer need DVD or Blueray players). But in organizations it is not uncommon to question the value of the cloud. From an IT perspective, the value stems from the lack of users’ need to manage physical servers themselves: “[F]irms can avoid the upfront cost and complexity of owning and maintaining their own IT infrastructure, and instead simply pay for what they use, when they use it.”iii In healthcare, there are multiple values of a cloud-based solutions.
For example, consider that a cloud-based EHR could reduce “hardware, software, and service cost[s]”; provide a scalable platform wherein “users can provide resources at the time of demand”; and reduce errors or improve quality through “[providing] the right information at the right time and right place needed.”iv
What is common between persons and organizations is that both ask, “Is the cloud secure?” and “Is information on the cloud private?” In a world where ‘everything’ is connected, security and privacy are both issues for data stored locally and remotely on the cloud. Unlike locally stored data, data hosted on the cloud is almost always encrypted (including being encrypted in transit from device to cloud and back). If a remote data center is breached, someone would need to crack the encryption before individuals could read the information.v
A private cloud, hosted at your organization or by a third-party datacenter (e.g. Azure), can offer improved security. In a private cloud, resources are not shared by another organization.vi,vii Engineers integrate security controls into the firmware and hardware such as “confidential computing.”viii Moreover, many cloud providers also leverage teams of security experts to monitor and respond to cyber-security threats. Due to the nature of healthcare data, these questions are even more pronounced. For that reason, we should note that cloud solutions are becoming HIPAA-compliant, like Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare.ix,x
Previously, we’ve discussed the future of virtual care.xi As the world adapts to living with COVID-19, many of us find ourselves working remote. While working remote, we are using cloud-based solutions to collaborate (e.g. Microsoft Teams). Privately, many of us leverage apps like Facetime or Zoom to connect over a social distance with nearby family and friends. Someone we know (if not ourselves), used a telehealth resource for a virtual doctor’s appointment. COVID-19 underscores how fast people and organizations can deploy and adopt cloud-based solutions. Healthcare organizations’ adaptation should not be different. While the cloud enables organizations to securely realize value, the transformative potential to rapidly scale up and down is perhaps the most compelling reason to think “cloud-first.”
Imagine the time and money investment to implement a ‘home-grown’ telehealth service or tele-ICU. Now imagine the investment made if your organization was cloud-enabled. Not only would your organization be able to deploy a solution in a matter of days, they could optimize current IT resources by simplifying maintenance and updates. Your organization could also incorporate new resources to support patients’ continuum of care. For example, if you are storing data in the cloud, you are no longer tied to desktop applications and your PC’s processing power. Your organization could integrate cloud-based apps, creating a tailored ecosystem. COVID-19 will hopefully subside, but the new normal is here to stay. In order for organizations to adapt to the speed of change and to how people work, they must adopt a cloud-first mentality.