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Get Your Head in the Cloud

8 Oct 2014

Remember when having your head in the cloud(s) was a negative thing?

The implication was that you were daydreaming, and probably missing out on what was going on around you. These days, you might say that IT departments that don’t have their heads in the cloud are missing out. Of course, we’re not talking about meteorology; we’re talking about cloud technology or delivery of applications, services or infrastructure over Internet Protocol (IP). The term was derived from the cloud symbols used by IT professionals in network diagrams to depict networks outside of their domain (including the Internet). Cloud computing is really just another name for hosted computing or software as a service (SaaS).

If you don’t have your head in “the cloud,” you’re missing out.

Just as the Internet has forever changed our personal lives, the cloud has the power to transform how health organizations operate. Other industries have embraced cloud-based technology, but the healthcare industry has been a little slower to jump on the bandwagon.

Healthcare reform and economic pressures have pushed organizations to rethink and refine their processes. Forces like the HITECH Act have catalyzed a shift to electronic health records (EHR) and digitization of massive quantities of data – big data – that requires new ways to store and exchange information efficiently, securely and cost-effectively.

Cloud-based technologies are a natural part of this evolution, with their hallmark scalability, elasticity, location independence and cost-effective deployment models. By reducing or eliminating the constraints and costly capital expenditures of premise-based technologies, the cloud enables health organizations to better manage costs and innovate new solutions and processes around everything from back office, data storage, back-up, billing and scheduling, to telemetry, medical imaging, collaborative medicine, patient-centric applications and business continuity.

No cloud pun intended, but the sky truly is the limit.

What about privacy and security?

The Healthcare industry is naturally sensitive to privacy and security issues around sensitive protected health information (PHI), so caution toward cloud-based technology is understandable. Yet, such concerns can usually be mitigated with proper homework and due diligence when selecting cloud applications and providers; as well as by ensuring that proper organizational processes, training and safeguards are in place. With increasingly sophisticated encryption and authentications methods, certain cloud applications can actually increase the security of PHI and other data.

When it comes to who runs the technology, most established cloud providers have well-developed security measures in place to remain viable. Since the Final Omnibus Ruling of 2013 formalized many of the HITECH regulations around privacy and security when it comes to “business associates,” cloud providers are now as accountable and liable for HIPAA compliance as the covered entities that use them.

Different clouds for different needs.

We’ve been talking about the cloud as if it were a singular thing, but the truth is that there are different types of cloud to fit different organizational styles and needs around where the technology and data resides and level of resource sharing:

In Public cloud, technology is owned and operated (hosted) by a third-party service provider on multitenant (shared) resources, and accessed on demand, typically on a period or usage basis. This is the most familiar model.

In Private cloud, technology is exclusive to a single organization and can be built and managed on-premise, or off-site by a third party. This model is sometimes preferred by entities with high security requirements.

Hybrid clouds combine private and public clouds to allow some internal applications to remain within organizational boundaries while still benefitting from public cloud for others.

Community clouds are like the public cloud model, but restricted to a finite number of organizations with common needs, such as a network of hospitals. They offer similar cost and resource sharing benefits of public cloud, but to a limited group.

When it comes to addressing healthcare technology challenges, considering the cloud is no longer a matter of “Why?” It’s a matter of “Why not?” With high scalability, ubiquity, resource optimization and flexibility to innovate within a variety of implementation models to fit most needs, the cloud has the power to change the healthcare industry for the better.

Isn’t it time you get your head in the cloud?

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