Healthcare Cloud Technology Comes of Age

shutterstock_263501171While in attendance at the 2015 HIMSS Conference and Exhibition (HIMSS15) in Chicago’s McCormick Place earlier this year, we observed the cloud’s growing appeal and traction in healthcare IT. This topic permeated education and keynote sessions that addressed benefits cloud technology offers in a variety of areas, including:

  • Analytics.
  • Collections (A/R).
  • Disaster recovery.
  • Interoperability.
  • IT software applications.
  • Mobile and wearable devices/applications.
  • Patient engagement.
  • Speech recognition.
  • Telehealth/Telemedicine.

Presenters identified economic benefits the cloud offers to compensate for hospitals’ overtaxed IT resources and budgets. These sessions also discussed issues and concerns surrounding cloud technology — how to protect sensitive corporate data and maintain compliance with industry regulations surrounding patient privacy and safety.

Industry Opinions on Cloud Technology are Positive

The media breakfast Cerner hosted during HIMSS15 featured a roundtable discussion with a panel of experts who provided insight and opinions on some of today’s key industry concerns. In response to a cloud-related question during the Q&A portion of this session, Mr. Marc Probst, chief information officer, Intermountain Healthcare, expressed the opinion that cloud technology is an exciting opportunity that creates a de facto standard and offers a tremendous advance in data security.

Mr. Jitin Asnaani, executive director, CommonWell Health Alliance, agreed that cloud-based interoperability is “the way to go” because it is centrally located and provides scalability.

Dr. Rishi Sikka, senior vice president of clinical transformation, Advocate Health Care, added that most population health applications are running on the cloud and offer the efficiency of making changes without disruption to the end user.

In a HIMSS15 education session, Steve Fanning, vice president of healthcare industry strategy, Infor, said to the audience that cloud services have been gaining traction in the industry and concluded that the benefits of this technology now outweigh any disadvantages, which makes the cloud a viable consideration for hospitals’ future IT strategies.

Real World Experience of Migrating to the Cloud with Legacy Health System

Melanie Rivero, interim director of enterprise systems and services, Legacy Health System (Portland), discussed Legacy Health’s experience in migrating its on-premise Infor Enterprise Resource Planning suite of applications to the cloud. She said the organization wanted to create an innovative, accessible, high-value delivery model, and cloud services met that need. The decision to embark on this migration involved three key factors – reduced operational costs, disaster recovery capabilities and “getting agile,” which she explained involves the ease of staying more current on application versions and the ability to move more quickly to incorporate new features and functions as they became available. Legacy chose the Amazon Web Services cloud platform, and Infor provides managed services for the applications.

Ms. Rivero cited three keys to the success of this initiative:

  • Establishing a strong vendor relationship.
  • Treating the migration like an implementation project with a well-defined project plan.
  • “Stress testing” to push the system to its limits through a series of multiple tests.

Mr. Fanning said this is a good time for organizations to scrutinize their applications and determine whether the applications appropriately align with their needs. He also said this time of assessment can help an organization make decisions regarding optimizing the capabilities of the applications that may be currently underused.

Questions to Ask When Moving to the Cloud

Ms. Rivero stated they had a lot of decisions to make and questions to ask during this process to ensure all i’s were dotted and t’s crossed:

  • Who owns the data?
  • Incident response policies (e.g., does the SLA align with internal needs?)
  • Encryption and privacy policies.
  • Data transmission protocols.
  • A dynamic process for managing passwords.
  • IT infrastructure security.
  • Regulatory compliance.

Ms. Rivero emphasized the importance of staying connected with their project team after going live through regular meetings to discuss change control and future decisions (e.g., new applications and/or features and functions and future roadmap).

She also cited one important lesson learned through the process – stay current with the on-premise version until the cloud migration is complete.

Both presenters addressed the issue of application customization and pointed out that customizations can adversely affect system agility as new applications, features and functions are considered. If feedback from a large enterprise indicates an organization can function well with out-of-the-box applications, taking the time to assess whether customizations are really necessary is an important step in the process.

Moving to the cloud offers significant benefits

  • Overall cost savings.
  • Reduced capital expenditures.
  • Mitigating risk associated with outdated systems.
  • Ability to repurpose existing staff resources.
  • Optimizing response and performance across business units, uptime bandwidth and security.
Phyllis Carlin, BA
Phyllis Carlin, BA, IT Analyst — Ms. Carlin joined MD Buyline in 1995 with over 18 years of experience in the healthcare industry. As a specialist in IT software solutions at MD Buyline, Ms. Carlin has primary responsibility for several technologies, voice processing (e.g., dictation, transcription and CVR), real-time location systems, enterprise resource planning (e.g., financial, supply chain and human capital management), time and attendance, staff scheduling, financial decision support, bed/capacity management, food and nutrition management, interactive patient communication and home healthcare. Ms. Carlin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University.