Whether you are already in the cloud or are convinced the only way your office could work effectively going forward is by transferring all of your data and applications to the cloud, one thing is for sure. Healthcare has been steadily moving cloud-ward.
BUT, even with this strong move to cloud environments, there remain big challenges for organizations in the cloud—and size of your organization doesn’t really matter here.
When switching to cloud-based services—or even hosting data you might have always stored on a server stored in a closet somewhere in your office—you will (or have) found that your approach to finances and your overall mindset might need to change, especially as new processes, governance, financing and needed work skills will change as the cloud evolves.
Years back, we were focused on servers in server rooms. I’m sure you probably remember some concerns with storing all of your data in a small room on premises (maybe you still have some concerns with this!). You probably shared some or all of some of these common concerns about keeping your data onsite:
Clutter and disarray?
All of these issues listed above were daily concerns that have led many to seek alternatives in cloud-based environments.
The transitional changes and challenges to the cloud
In the transition to a cloud environment from that small room, your IT team probably had to change from physically managing boxes, wires and air conditioning (keeping those boxes cool) to a focus on how to remotely provision your infrastructure needs. These changes take a huge amount of transitioning, skill sets and structures of your teams focusing on cloud servers.
Financial changes to your organization
The cloud might drastically change how you finance what you do. Before moving to the cloud—no matter whether you are non-profit or a for-profit organization—most of your infrastructure was paid for with cold hard capital funds. When moving to the cloud, your computing is most likely a revenue subscription service, where you are purchasing compute power—not physical machines—to do the work you need done.
A move to the cloud will not come without some bumps
One very common misconception with the cloud is that many folks think that a change to the cloud will be a piece of cake. Here are some considerations healthcare organizations should consider when approaching the cloud. Note: even if you are already in the cloud, you might want to review these as they might help you move toward a better future in the cloud.
Cloud requires a new mindset
First and foremost, cloud computing is like managing your house’s electric bill. You might have experienced this over this hot summer that’s almost gone—you’re thinking about your air conditioning use, trying to conserve as much as possible when you’re not in the house. Maybe you decided to get a Nest thermostat or turn up the temp during the day when you and your family is not in the house.
To get the real benefits of the cloud, you need to approach the cloud like your electric bill. You need to be aware of your usage and understand clinician or patient behaviors to formulate a budget that informs you when you need more cloud services available (and are aware of what you may need to scale).
Evaluate your new risks
One of the big changes to the cloud is understanding where your risks may have changed. While a power outage or flooded building may not completely cripple your operations as may happen if you completely relied on in-house servers, with cloud computing you still have risks—they’ve just shifted to other concerns.
Let’s say for example that it is a big task for your office staff or clinicians to process and extract EHR data—all hosted in the cloud. Maybe the connection to your cloud hosted EHR (electronic health record) platform takes a considerably longer time to process and download than it had if you were hosting the EHR platform in your office. You may need to seek some advice—and some magic—from your tech team to see what functionality you need and when the best time to extract that large amount of data. It may turn out that you would be best served to extract data after hours when less of your team is working.
Another example may be figuring out how much computing power you need at the end of every month—you may need to focus some of your energy around reports looking at questions like this to make sure your team has enough resources to get their work done effectively.
You may need to understand what type of storage you need
Cloud storage can be a very effective way of storing data. But as a healthcare organization, you might want to evaluate what type of storage you need. Depending on how quickly you need to access data, there are different cost-effective types of storage.
If you are in a health information exchange and need quick access to patient data stored in one of your databases, you wouldn’t want a storage option that would take hours—or even days to access the needed information. On the other hand, for data you really don’t need access to regularly, you may want a more economical storage option that may be a little slower to access for financial reasons.
As you think about your cloud environment, good provisioning (what resources, stores for data and compute power) and de-provisioning will be key to make the cloud an effective tool for your organization. If you aren’t thinking about these things, you may not be effectively using your cloud infrastructure and may not be thinking of how the cloud can make you more resilient going forward.
Understand where the cloud market is moving
One of the biggest challenges with cloud infrastructure is that there are tons of disruptors in the industry, especially those looking to engage healthcare systems. Software creators, cloud providers and hardware providers that deliver cloud infrastructure are all trying to vie for your business—all of which can be beneficial for you if you stay informed to where the market is going in healthcare cloud.
Some things we are noticing? One big news story that came out a little while back was Amazon Web Services’ partnership with Cerner. There are other partnerships bubbling up with Microsoft products as well. It will be important for your tech team to keep its eyes peeled on what is coming up with healthcare cloud.
One last word—moving to the cloud removes a lot of distractions you otherwise may experience with having to host servers in house. It also eliminates a lot of risks that come with owning your own hardware. But simply moving to the cloud without having a solid plan in place or metrics to guide performance, processes and a new mentality on how your technology works will make the cloud less useful for your teams.