Healthcare Tip Toes into Hybrid Cloud

Regulations around electronic health records, data security, cost management and tech jargon holding back healthcare industry from using cloud computing.

By Damon Brown

By Damon Brown October 7, 2019

Healthcare is moving to hybrid cloud a bit later and slower than other industries. While the sector as a whole remains reluctant, insiders say some healthcare providers are boldly paving the way for others to use private and public cloud technologies in order to meet increasing data management needs in a highly regulated sector.

Still overall, healthcare lags behind other industries when it comes to embracing cloud technologies. According to the 2018 Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index, 37% of healthcare leaders expect to have hybrid workload distribution within the next 12 to 24 months, behind the cross-industry average of 41%. That’s also well behind retail (43%) and financial (44%) sectors. Media and entertainment fell slightly below healthcare at 36%.

[Related eBook: Transform Healthcare IT with Enterprise Cloud]

Digital transformation is real for CIOs and people working in IT at healthcare organizations. At the core of their concern is keeping electronic health records (EHR) secure and accessible only to the right doctors and patients.

“As a healthcare organization, we’re responsible for managing critical clinical and IT applications …as well as making sure that we have an infrastructure that is secure and scalable to support changing needs such as hybrid cloud-based disaster recovery,” said Dave Lehr, CIO of Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC).

Data Center Cloud

To modernize his IT, Lehr and his team moved to hyperconverged infrastructure, which combines storage, computing and networking capabilities into one system. They did this to reduce data center complexity and increase their ability to meet growing needs.

“The hyper-converged infrastructure allows us to manage workloads on a single, cost-effective solution,” he said.

[Related: Enterprise Cloud Index Report – Healthcare Industry Findings Webinar]

Being able to use private and public cloud technologies is helping healthcare providers like AAMC manage applications and data, take advantage of automation, and create new services like telehealth or remote monitoring. These benefits are critical for improving patient engagement and competing with industry upstarts.

Moving to Cloud with Careful Purpose

Great thought needs to go into any decision about moving to public and private cloud computing, according to Cheryl Rodenfels, Nutanix Customer Success Executive.

“Don’t go to the cloud for the cloud’s sake,” she said. “Go because you have a business objective or because it helps provide things you need to deliver. Align it with the business goal. Align it with a strategy or a technology road map.”

[Related: Business Continuity Depends on Your Disaster Recovery Plan]

Rodenfels previously served as CTO and CIO of large healthcare organizations. She said there must be a business driver, better service for patients or a requirement to meet physician needs before cloud can be a cost-effective solution.

Not Just Cloud, But a Better Way

To adhere to strict industry privacy standards, hospitals and health-related services often rely on complex, sometimes proprietary systems to manage health records, according to Jon Kohler, Nutanix Technical Director of Engineering and Health Solutions. Those systems and applications need to speak to each other without burdening the cost of patient care.

“The overriding goal of any health system is to deliver excellent patient care and quality at a cost-effective rate,” said Kohler.

Concerns about security and cost of cloud technologies can be overcome with education and acceptance, according to Rodenfels. She said many healthcare organizations have Microsoft enterprise software agreements that provide an allotment of Azure cloud services.

“They don’t have a lot of structure,” she said. “So their $100,000 grant turns into a $300,000 bill because they didn’t know how to manage the service.”

Kohler added it would help if technology experts spoke in ways that were more appealing to healthcare experts. When talking to healthcare IT managers, he said he learned not to use the word ‘cloud,’ because it’s distracting.

“It’s not something that is on the customer’s mind when you’re talking about poor clinical experiences.” Kohler said.

“The more popular term would be ‘hosted solution,’ not ‘cloud solution.’ That resonates with customers today. This will open more discussions that lead to effective use of cloud.”

Improving Technical Prowess

Ultimately, thinking creatively allows the many advantages of cloud to flourish, said Kohler. When healthcare IT pros are dissatisfied with their current systems, they will be open to exploring new options.

Big hurdles remain, however. Healthcare leaders often don’t have the platform APIs or deeper technical access necessary to fully adopt another cloud provider, so it’s ultimately up to the vendors, according to Rodenfels.

[Related Podcast: NCHICA Annual Conference Podcast featuring Cheryl Rodenfels of Nutanix]

She said the proprietary nature of their applications they use, along with privacy and regulatory concerns, hold back healthcare IT from unlocking the value of new technologies such as hybrid cloud systems.

“They don’t yet have all the keys to the kingdom.”

Damon Brown is a contributing writer. He writes a daily column for Inc. Follow him on Twitter @browndamon.

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