By Robert Barras, vice president of health solutions, CTG Inc.
There’s nothing like a good bandwagon to get everyone excited. Whether it’s the success of your favorite sports team, or a hot new restaurant in town, or a movie that’s breaking box office records, once something gets hot it seems everyone wants a piece of it.
For healthcare IT, one of the loudest and most visible bandwagons in the last few years has been the cloud. The idea of being able to hand off the expense and resource-intensive hassle of purchasing, implementing, and maintaining hardware and software is very attractive to healthcare organizations continuously being challenged to “do more with less.” Yet that expediency is often offset by continuing concerns about security, especially as it relates to protected health information (PHI), speed of access, and other issues.
The reality is the cloud is the right choice for some organizations, or even some specific applications, but it’s not a panacea for HIT. Following are some things to consider as you make the choice of whether to move to the cloud at all, and what makes sense to move to it.
One of the top reasons in favor of moving data and/or applications to the cloud is the ability to scale them on an ad hoc basis – especially as healthcare data continues to grow exponentially. A report from EMC and research firm IDC projects the volume of healthcare data will grow from 153 exabytes in 2013 to 2,314 exabytes by 2020.
Of course, the growth won’t come in a steady stream. At some points, healthcare organizations will need to be able to manage a high volume of data. At others, they may need to boost their computing power temporarily to drive a specific objective.
Rather than trying to manage data or computing needs internally and ending up with over- or under-capacity, the cloud provides a convenient way to scale up or down quickly. It’s also more cost-efficient, as healthcare organizations only pay for what they consume, significantly reducing costs. Finally, expanding capacity through the cloud ensures processing-heavy analytics applications aren’t slowing down the performance of critical clinical applications.
All of that data won’t be coming from a single source, either. As more of healthcare shifts to being value-based, providers of all types and sizes need to populate their population health management (PHM) and other analytics applications with data drawn from a variety of sources inside and outside of the organization.
Most organizations, especially those hyper-concerned with security, will not want all of that outside data flowing into their core systems or internal data centers. The cloud presents an ideal alternative.
It can create a clean separation between the main storage of PHI and all other data by treating PHI as a source that feeds applications housed in the cloud. With the help of a partner, all the incoming data can be cleaned and normalized so it can be used within analytics or other applications, providing better, more complete answers to PHM, patient engagement, trends, and other questions than can be obtained with internal data alone.
As the use of data in this manner grows, it will simplify the exchange between providers – especially as standards such as FHIR proliferate throughout the industry. The result is interoperability almost becomes a byproduct of the use of data in the cloud, avoiding the need for expensive, time-consuming special projects just to send electronic health records from one provider to another.