Does the cloud work for health care?
The cloud is here and from a technology perspective it is fairly mature. However, from a vertical perspective – health care in this case – it is not always an easy technology to plug in. Health care organizations are treading slowly and testing the waters with some non-PHI applications such as email. There are a number of considerations before taking the leap into the cloud.
Like any major technology change in an organization, due diligence is critical to help you define your requirements, understand your options and ensure all expectations are met. Surprises are never good. If this isn’t your normal procedure, it should be! The approach to cloud computing is no different than approaching any other technology you are considering for the organization.
So let’s look at some of the pros and cons you need to consider when building your requirements and justification for moving your application delivery out of your own data center and into the cloud:
No Capital Expenditure -Unlike building or expanding a data center, new servers, or operating systems, you don’t need to buy anything to get started in the cloud. You basically pay rent.
No Data Center Required – Data center space in a hospital takes up valuable square footage. This space could be used for more important things like billable patient care activities. Also, I have seen very few hospitals that properly maintain and operate a true Tier 3 data center. It is very expensive to do so.
Less Support Required – Without a data center, you no longer need the operational support for the physical space and hardware, or the system administration support for the operating systems. With cloud services, you can also leverage subject matter experts provided by the vendor that are typically very expensive to keep on staff such as high-end security experts and virtualization experts.
Capacity on Demand – In the cloud you can easily expand processing power and storage capacity. Rather than purchasing new equipment and executing an implementation plan, you simply select the changes you need from your vendor’s portal and it magically appears.
Pay for What You Use – You no longer need to maintain excess capacity for growth since you can expand at will. Your costs will be commensurate with what you need.
Highly Mobile – Since everything is virtual, server instances can be rapidly migrated to other locations with little or no interruption in service.
Inexpensive High Availability – With the enhanced mobility through virtualization, an organization can leverage this for high availability without the need of redundant data centers, hardware and software.
Immature Platform in Health care – Pundits can declare that cloud computing will work for everyone, but there currently is not enough real world experience to fully understand all of the pitfalls in a tightly interfaced healthcare environment.
Connectivity Limitations – Data communications cannot be overlooked. Moving data to and from your onsite data center is much easier (and cheaper) than accessing it from a vendor location. Be sure to factor in these costs to your financial model.
Operating System Limitations – Today, cloud computing focuses on Windows and Linux platforms so your application must be supported on one of these operating systems. Also, cloud computing works better with thinner clients such as web delivery. Fat clients typically require more bandwidth to maintain performance levels.
Standards/Regulations Still Evolving – Even though HIPAA security and privacy compliance should be achievable in the cloud, there is still quite a bit of due diligence needed to ensure compliance. This will become easier as the marketplace evolves and certification standards are deployed.
Ownership/Control of Data – This is probably the most daunting aspect for organizations. You own the data but do not own the hardware it resides on or the physical location where it is housed. You need to ensure that you are dealing with a reputable, stable vendor and have spelled out specific contractual terms relating to reclaiming your data upon termination of the agreement.
Once you have defined your requirements and made your business case for moving forward, you are ready to move on to the remaining steps of any successful implementation:
Develop your options
Select your partner
Implement your solution
Monitor the performance of your partner
While cloud services may not be appropriate for all computing solutions for every organization, it has its place. Health care IT budgets will continue to be squeezed. Organizations need to be creative while still delivering a high level of service to their users. So the simple answer to the question of whether or not cloud computing works for health care is, “yes.” It’s time to kick the tires.