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Perceptions Blog

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Cloud?

Multiple sessions at HIMSS 17 show a healthcare industry growing more comfortable with storing data to the cloud.

The healthcare industry has long kept cloud technology at arm’s length. The cloud simply was not to be trusted. The idea of relinquishing control of valuable patient data from internal server farms to unfamiliar hosted environments was enough to cause palpitations in the hearts of many healthcare CIOs. What if our data is lost or exposed? Will my clinical teams and applications be able to access our data when they need it? How can I be sure a cloud application is HIPAA compliant? These are the types of questions that made moving to the cloud seem way too risky. However, if HIMSS 17 is any indication, this mindset has begun to change in a big way.

Several sessions at HIMSS 17 illustrated that the cloud is not only gaining acceptance in healthcare, it is largely being viewed as a game-changing option vital to reducing costs and improving clinical outcomes. For example, during a session titled Still Afraid Of The Cloud? A CIO’s Journey, Deanna L. Wise, Executive Vice President and CIO at Dignity Health, shared her story of how she evolved from a cloud skeptic to an advocate. During her presentation, she referenced data from an eye-opening HIMSS 2016 Cloud Survey that showed that 84% of provider organizations are currently using the cloud in one way or another. Not surprisingly, the most common cloud use was to host analytics, finance, operations, HR and other data not crucial to clinical care (78%). However, the survey also showed that primary data storage (68%) and clinical application hosting (54%) were gaining significant traction from a cloud perspective. 

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A slide during Wise’s HIMSS 17 presentation showing the most common uses of the cloud according to a 2016 HIMSS survey.

Another interesting data point from the HIMSS 2016 Cloud Survey was that “Increasing Performance and Reliability” was the most common response given for healthcare providers adopting cloud technologies. This bucks the historical trend of “Lowering TCO” or “Ease of Management” being the primary reason for moving to the cloud.

Wise admitted gaining a comfort level with the cloud didn’t happen overnight and may not be right for every provider or every application. She stressed that it was a journey. In her case, she gained confidence in the cloud by starting small to build trust in the platform and the provider and ensure the technology performed as expected. She then gradually moved more applications to the cloud and stresses that she envisions ultimately relying on more than one cloud provider.

The HIMSS 17 Cloud Computing Forum also provided strong evidence of the shift to cloud platforms in healthcare. During this assembly, John Houston, Vice President of Information Security and Privacy at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that while 90 percent of the health system’s software and 75 percent of its applications are legacy on-premise, only 20 percent of its current contract negotiations are for on-premise solutions. The remaining 80 percent are for cloud-based platforms.

Other providers at the Cloud Computing Forum showed how the switch to the cloud has been truly transformational for their organizations and patients. For example, Richard Stroup, Director of Informatics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City shared a story of how the cloud is helping the provider save lives of at-risk infants. Using a cloud-based tablet app, the provider is monitoring infant patients post-surgery after they leave the hospital. In one test case, Children’s Mercy monitored 68 patients that had completed second stage surgery using the app. Thanks to real-time monitoring, there was no interstage mortality. Stroup said that historically they would have expected six to 12 mortalities in that same timeframe without cloud-based monitoring.

The move to the cloud will only continue to increase in healthcare – not only because of the performance, TCO and maintenance benefits cloud technologies offer, but largely out of necessity. With mass EHR adoption and other digitization efforts, the amount of healthcare data is growing exponentially. The rise of genomics, 3D imaging and other data-intensive healthcare applications will push storage and processing requirements to new limits. In fact, IDC states that by 2020, the volume of healthcare data will surpass 2,300 exabytes. Managing this type of data load onsite at healthcare facilities is going to be impractical for most, and impossible for some. Cloud platforms will need to be leveraged to store this critical information and keep patient-centered care initiatives on track.