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Pros and cons of healthcare organizations moving to the cloud

Whether you've already adopted the public cloud or are still considering making the move, read these pros and cons to ensure your healthcare organization is getting the benefits.

The public cloud market is predicted to reach $266.4 billion in 2020, which is up 17% from 2019, according to Gartner. This is just one of many statistics and predictions that highlight the tremendous growth in organizations moving their workloads to the public cloud.

The promise of enhanced security, reduction of cost and improved flexibility has been especially appealing for those in healthcare. Thus, the move away from the business of IT and focusing on patient outcomes and reduction of costs seem like no-brainers, except they can result in some unintended consequences.

Moving to the cloud has provided healthcare organizations with an opportunity to utilize someone else's network and computing resources to host and manage applications like the picture archiving and communication system (PACS), electronic medical records (EMRs) and laboratory information system (LIS). It eliminates the need for hospitals and clinics to own or manage their own data center equipment. Over the years, the model has become more cost-effective as hospitals began to see a more competitive landscape that drove hosting fees down and decreased the cost to outsource the hardware side of IT, including the support around it.

In recent years, cloud computing providers added more compelling reasons for those who are still hosting their systems in their own servers to abandon that practice and take a leap into the cloud. Despite that, there are several cons to discuss after reviewing the latest pros of moving to the cloud.

The following are some of the pros many healthcare organizations discover as they're moving to the cloud.

Enhanced security and protections to keep customer's data protected

Cloud services, like AWS, Azure and Google, among others, invest millions of dollars to secure their environments, which host their client's data. In a recent announcement by Erin Chapple, product leader of Microsoft Azure Compute, she stated that "we invest over a billion dollars a year and employ over 3,500 employees focused on security." This highlights how healthcare organizations will have access to cloud environments that will ultimately be far more secure than the ones they might manage in their own physical location.

Provisioning environments as needed reduces costs when EMRs or other systems require testing

A pay-for-use model available through most cloud service providers enables a healthcare organization to provision development or testing environments for all sorts of systems that may include EMR, LIS, PACS, registration systems and other platforms on a temporary basis and only pay for the hours they're being used for. This approach provides IT administrators with tremendous value as they don't have to invest any capital into purchasing hardware or software that may only be used once or twice.

HITRUST certification of cloud providers highlights a new level of compliance with HIPAA and HITECH

Azure and AWS are among a few cloud service providers that, in recent years, have added HITRUST to their certifications. This is considered one of the highest levels of security certifications as it ensures patient data is adequately protected and secured.

There are valued-added services that matter to healthcare

Another attractive aspect of moving to the cloud is the availability of value-added services offered by some of the major players in the marketplace, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google. Not only can a hospital take advantage of traditional services, like IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, but they are also able to partner with the vendor to take advantage of other healthcare specific offerings, including hosted Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, AI-based analysis on medical imaging and health bots.

In 2020, we will most likely see more healthcare organizations moving to the cloud as they look for ways to modernize their environments and benefit from the wide variety of services the cloud provides.

As mentioned earlier, moving to the cloud also comes with some challenges that hospitals need to be prepared for and mindful of. Here are a few of the cons.

Pricing of the workloads and services can be hard to manage

Cloud workloads are generally billed based on usage. Whether it is storage, servers or virtual appliances, invoices will generally be confusing as they show up on a monthly basis, leaving IT decision-makers puzzled as to what they are paying for and what it all entails. It is also common for invoices to include charges that vary from month to month, leaving some invoices higher than usual due to higher data transfer rates or newly deployed solutions that were billed differently.

Keeping up with the platform and keeping your engineers up to speed

Another challenge hospitals will face as they're moving to the cloud and adopting cloud providers is keeping the IT engineers trained and up to speed on best practices. Given that the cloud platform continues to change over time, managing it requires specific IT cloud skills that existing IT employees are most likely not familiar with or trained on.

Securing the environment is more than just what the cloud providers deliver

While a cloud environment includes some basic protections that the providers include in their offerings, the true security of the hosted infrastructure falls on the shoulders of the IT team, which is ultimately responsible for protecting it from hackers and cybercriminals.

In 2020, we will most likely see more healthcare organizations moving to the cloud as they look for ways to modernize their environments and benefit from the wide variety of services the cloud provides. But, as CIOs and IT leaders make that leap into the cloud, appropriate upfront planning will help ensure that they are, in fact, addressing any potential risks and pitfalls they may encounter on the way.

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