Healthcare Cloud Adoption Driven by Use Cases
Healthcare organizations now rely on cloud to do more than support electronic medical records, recognizing the flexibility, efficiency, and productivity this architecture can deliver.
"[The] healthcare industry has lagged behind other industries in implementing cloud technology; however, increasing number of companies are coming forward, adopting and utilizing cloud-based applications," according to Research and Markets.
Globally, healthcare adoption of cloud will grow at a compound annual growth rate of almost 22 percent between 2014 and 2019, according to a TechNavio study. Concerned initially about security and regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that govern personal health information (PHI), healthcare organizations were slow to adopt cloud. But by 2017, this industry will spend $5.4 billion across the cloud universe, including public, private, hybrid, and software as a service (SaaS), reported MarketsandMarkets. Overall, the global cloud managed services market will reach $52.23 billion this year, soaring to $118.43 billion by 2020, the research firm found in a separate study.
Healthcare organizations' cloud budgets pale when compared to the outlay they would shell out if they had to buy, maintain, and operate all hardware, software, services, and expertise internally, said David Graffia, vice president of sales at cloud service provider dinCloud, in an interview.
"In traditional IT, there are a lot of moving parts in getting from compute to configuration. Then on top of that, the hospital or entity is still forced to go out and buy a bunch of servers for apps like malware and antivirus and patchwork. The regulations – like HIPAA – are driving that. And now [these regulations] they have teeth," Graffia said. "They're looking to conserve capital. They've deferred their refresh rates on their endpoints, which makes it even harder to keep up with regulations, and they've thinned their IT ranks."
Indeed, cloud is top-of-mind for many healthcare executives – including financial officers, Amit Cohen, CEO of cloud security solutions developer FortyCloud, told Enterprise Technology. "We know there's a lot of pressure on a lot of healthcare organizations to cut a lot of cost and use the money they save to provide a better service and better product to end-users, that being the American people and people consuming healthcare services," he said. "One way to cut costs would be to stop using physical infrastructure and move to the cloud. Virtually every CFO in American healthcare is talking about cloud."
Cloud: Not Only for Cost
Saving money is not the sole – or even the primary – motivator among healthcare organizations.
"They used to come in for cost," dinCloud chief technology officer Mike Chase told Enterprise Technology. But now healthcare CIOs want more: They see cloud as the solution to challenges around security, disaster recovery and business continuity, and compliance, he said. The cloud service provider's specialized offering for healthcare includes virtual desktops and cloud storage, and provides Business Associate Agreements (BAAs), said Chase. Remote backup at multiple locations and scalability ensure healthcare organizations remain operational and safe, he said.
Cloud allows organizations to retain their original investment and leverage IT staff for optimal advantage, said Steve Arndt, contract CIO at Medicalodges, in an interview. Like others in its margin-strapped field, the organization – which provides various care options such as rehabilitation, specialized care, assisted and independent living, and adult day care – needed to use technology to improve processes, reduce costs, and enhance services, he said. When the IT director of 15 years left Medicalodges, the Coffeyville, Kan.-based firm, whose IT department consisted of two technicians and the director, opted to contract its CIO role and reconsider its entire IT approach, said Arndt.
"There was no question they weren't fully satisfied with what they had and they needed to change. They weren't sure how," he said. "Our strategy was to look at ways we could view IT infrastructure as a service and get to that point so we could look at IT as a high value component."
Working with partner CDW, Medicalodges prepared to implement a point-of-care solution but recognized its small IT staff could not deliver around-the-clock support for the 24/7 organization, said Arndt. The healthcare provider wanted to stop maintaining its own hardware, seeking a partner that would monitor and maintain its datacenter infrastructure, plus provide redundancy and business continuity, he said.
Cost was important, Arndt said, but most important was the partner's ability to sign a BAA and meet HIPAA requirements. The organization reviewed options including Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and dinCloud.
"Another factor was ease of use," he said. "Certainly the dinCloud platform was extremely easy to get on board with during our pilot process. The ability to move our virtual machines and turn them on was simple and thus made it pretty appealing. The other thing that was pretty appealing was their desktop feature. We haven't used it much yet, but … we're definitely going to get off Citrix."
Eventually, Medicalodges plans to run a mix of browser-based thin clients instead of Citrix desktops, said Arndt. Although accounting, for example, must continue using Windows, many other departments currently or in the future will operate on Google, allowing the organization to save between $30,000 and $40,000 annually on its Citrix license alone, he noted.
"You're spending a lot of time and money on things that add no value to the organization. We're shifting all this onto someone else's lap. My team has become more application focused," said Arndt.
For its part, Murray-Calloway County Hospital uses cloud for workforce management. The community-owned hospital recently chose Kronos Workforce Central in the Kronos Cloud in order to free up its internal IT staff and leverage Kronos' knowledge of configuration, maintenance, upgrades, and support. In addition, the hospital will amass attendance data for improved scheduling and planning, Kronos said.
"The Kronos solution deployed in the cloud can really help support our mission of remaining a viable operation now and in the future," said John Wilson, vice president of human resources at Murray-Calloway, in a statement.