By Lincoln Russell, managing director, Core BTS.
The last 24 months have transformed the role of the cloud in healthcare. Before, software solutions were usually only accessible on-prem. There was no real impetus for healthcare organizations to modernize their disconnected systems when they were contained within a facility’s four walls. For clinicians laser-focused on patient care, trying new tools from the IT department was a low priority. Both of these factors made the adoption of modern cloud solutions extremely slow.
But the rise of telehealth and remote work during the pandemic changed all that. Now, efficient collaboration across many locations is a business need — and a key to effective patient care. More healthcare organizations are making the decision to shift their systems to the cloud to facilitate easier file sharing, more streamlined workflows, and other benefits.
However, transitioning to the cloud isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. For healthcare organizations in particular, modernizing technology systems requires careful change management and a well-thought-out governance plan. Skip these steps and your organization risks missing out on the full benefits of cloud.
The sources of healthcare organizations’ technical debt
Data security and regulatory compliance are top concerns for healthcare providers when it comes to technology solutions — and for good reason. Healthcare organizations handle large quantities of highly sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), and both HIPAA and data privacy regulations like the GDPR and CCPA carry heavy penalties for violations that lead to a breach.
However, these legitimate concerns have led many healthcare organizations into deep technical debt. A widespread — and inaccurate — perception that on-prem solutions are more secure than cloud delayed adoption of modern, streamlined workflow and file management solutions. At the same time, concerns over compliance drove the adoption of pinpoint solutions from vendors able to claim their products were specifically designed for healthcare customers.
While these disconnected solutions may have offered feelings of security in the short term, in the long term they become a barrier to modernizing your technology infrastructure. Information is siloed within disparate systems, making it difficult to make important data connections. Simply put, these supposedly secure solutions don’t talk to each other, which makes it harder to access data across the organization.
And for all that, on-prem solutions aren’t necessarily more secure after all. Large cloud providers have access to top cybersecurity talent and the resources to invest continuously in security improvements. Most healthcare organizations — particularly small-scale operations — lack this level of expertise. This can lead to security gaps — particularly when IT teams’ attention is spread across many disconnected solutions with different security vulnerabilities and needs.
Two steps to prepare for the transition to cloud
Cloud adoption streamlines collaboration, improves security, and alleviates technical debt — but only if you lay the right groundwork. No matter how perfect a cloud solution is for your business, its impact will be blunted by an ill-executed rollout. When planning for an effective cloud transition, here are the two steps you should never skip.
Develop a governance model
As long as healthcare organizations stuck to on-prem solutions that centralized data in one place, oversight was relatively straightforward. For example, when the HIPAA-compliant, healthcare-specific software tool you use to store patient records is only accessible in your facility, avoiding unauthorized access is relatively simple. In fact, those records might be so locked down, even your employees have difficulty accessing them.
When your organization finally adopts a cloud file storage solution, however, workloads are suddenly integrated and accessible from anywhere. This makes it even more important to ensure proper access control and regulatory compliance.
And it means that before you roll out a single cloud solution, you must develop an approach that connects your end users to the right systems via a detailed and pre-planned governance model. You must also revisit the model as your systems and user needs evolve over time. With cloud, especially in healthcare, governance conversations should ideally start early and never stop.
Governance comes into play with collaboration as well. To collaborate effectively, end users must have a clear sense of what information lives where, what data they have access to and how to properly work together. These parameters must be in place and well understood before you turn on any cloud workflows.
Plan change management with the end user in mind
Too often, healthcare organizations approach the transition to cloud as a totally technological process. But they ignore the human element at their own peril. You need a comprehensive change management strategy to educate clinicians about new tools, drive adoption, and make them aware of support systems. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how well-designed the solution is: If the end user is not engaged, the solution is doomed to fail.
When organizations fail to engage and educate employees, the transition to cloud is often ill-received. Employees become averse to changes in their day-to-day work processes, and IT is stuck playing catch-up and trying to generate buy-in after the fact. By building a thoughtful, precise, and meaningful change management plan in advance, you can avoid confusion and start capturing value from your cloud solutions faster.
Early and often education is critical — and it has to be done in a streamlined, efficient way. Fifteen years ago, you’d roll out a new technology solution, everyone would gather in a training room and within a few hours be expected to have a full grasp of how new tools and applications operate. But that’s untenable in our current healthcare system. Patient care supersedes other motivators, and clinicians need to understand in a condensed amount of time what you’re changing and how it impacts their ability to do their jobs. Make sure that the education and onboarding you provide fits into your employees’ busy days.
Change your thinking about the cloud and healthcare
The factors that have held healthcare organizations back from cloud adoption are now pushing them toward it. Cloud adoption streamlines collaboration and boosts security — if you take the right steps. With the pressure on, now is the time for your healthcare organization to begin its journey to the cloud, if you haven’t already. Just make sure you have thoughtful change management and governance plans in place.