The cloud holds great promise for healthcare organizations with its ability to provide flexibility and scalability. The elasticity that cloud can offer to healthcare organizations is transformative, enabling hospitals the ability to help achieve optimal patient outcomes

Despite cloud’s benefits, cloud adoption and choosing the correct variation of cloud can be challenging. To help combat these challenges, the GovDataDownload editorial team reached out to IT experts, Ben Compton —Systems Engineer/Architect, SLED, NetApp – and David LaBrosse – Strategic Partner Manager, Healthcare Cloud Solutions, NetApp – for their insight on how healthcare organizations are adopting cloud computing and offer some advice for those organizations that are still evaluating a move to the cloud.

For Ben and David’s insight, continue reading below: 

GovDataDownload: Many organizations have adopted cloud computing to boost performance and realize cost savings. Are healthcare organizations getting onboard with cloud? What are the drivers for cloud adoption for healthcare organizations?  

Ben ComptonBen Compton (BC):  The healthcare industry is a mixed bag when it comes to cloud adoption. I have some customers, for example, who are very hesitant about cloud adoption. On the other hand, I have customers who have take the first step and are reaping the benefits of their move. Many of these customers have started their cloud journey with a solution like AltaVault®, which is a solution that boosts performance and integrates easily into existing backup architecture as well as with existing cloud providers.  For some, the idea of private cloud is really intriguing; similarly, the idea of public cloud, even for those who are hesitant, will start to look viable as security continues to evolve and improve.

DavidLaBrosseDavid LaBrosse (DL): I’m going to echo Ben’s sentiments: some healthcare organizations have embraced cloud computing, but many have legitimate questions about how it will affect their performance and data security.

To start the conversation with those who are just beginning to think about the cloud a good place to start is with the type of cloud models. One cloud model is to “outsource services” to an external cloud provider.  This falls under the OPEX services classification.  The other model is to become a cloud provider yourself, establishing a CAPEX/DIY model.  This is where an organization invests in IT infrastructure “on-premise” to provide services to internal and external customers.

This CAPEX-DIY model includes a larger hospital- the hub- which manages the infrastructure.  Smaller hospitals and clinics in the region act as spokes to the wheel and connect to the main data center.  This model has been successful for a variety of customers including Mercy Health, based in St. Louis, MO, and the Prairie Health Ventures organization, based in Lincoln, NE.

GDD: What are some of the benefits that cloud computing can deliver for hospitals?

BC: For hospitals, the main benefit to cloud computing is the elasticity it offers.  For example, let’s say there is a crisis affecting a local hospital, pushing them to capacity. Cloud computing enables them to expand and scale compute resources during periods of high volume in order to fit the hospitals needs at that time.  The hospital, by extension, and its staff can become more efficient with an elastic, scalable compute model.

DL: While some hospitals are concerned about the security of cloud services, many are outsourcing disaster recovery and business continuity services. NetApp partners with providers, like Iron Mountain and SunGard, to ensure customers get the best-in-class for both sides of the equation.

One benefit of cloud computing is the reduction in CAPEX or infrastructure expenses.  By using an external cloud provider for disaster recovery, the hospital can significantly decrease the costs of installing and maintaining the hardware and software. Another benefit is that outsourcing to a cloud provider will free-up space in the data center.  And, it gives IT employees more time to focus on their core responsibilities.

GDD: What about for organizations that handle and process payments?

DL: Claims processors or payers are investing in cloud solutions to support internal and external analytics requirements. Concurrently, as more and more patient records are migrating to the cloud, the perceived potential for fraud grows.  Patient information can be stolen and then used to make fraudulent medical and/or insurance claims, which is why it’s worth 10 times what a credit card record is worth to a hacker.

As a result of these data security and integrity issues, some claims processors will first de-identify patient data, by stripping it of all personally identifying markers.  Next, they will migrate the data to a public cloud, like AWS or Microsoft Azure, which allows the payer to reduce costs in the areas of processing and analytics.  With  data that is de-identified, the analytics can also be used to derive overall population information, which can be used to streamline payment processes, identify areas of high cost, overpayment and many other vital pieces of information that have previously been difficult to bring together.

Some claims processors invest in their own cloud infrastructure and this is usually for reasons of privacy and security. They can then use the cloud to migrate data from a primary database to another database located across the data center or around the world.   And with information that’s stored on a private cloud, there’s less risk so it can be used to run more specific analytics inquiries on fraud and misuse,  Ultimately, claims processors are constantly seeking intelligence from their data to help reduce costs and to improve patient care.

GDD: Are cloud computing solutions a one size fits all proposition?

BC: Candidly, no. Cloud will never be a one-size fits all solution because when you consider cloud vs. a traditional architecture, cloud is flexible and allows for personalization by design.  For example, from a strategic workload perspective, if you have a strategic workload that has to stay on the site for a while, it will look very different for customer A than it does for customer B.

There is a modicum of standardization that we can incorporate on the backend but even then one cloud will vary greatly from another based on the needs of the customer. The beauty of cloud lies in the level of personalization and flexibility it offers. We don’t need a one-size fits all solution when we have the flexibility of cloud at our fingertips.

DL: Ben’s right, cloud solutions, by design are not a one-size-fits-all model and that’s a good thing for the end user.   At NetApp, we use the terms Data Fabric and Hybrid Cloud to describe the wide range of cloud options that are now available. As we mentioned earlier, we see three major types of cloud providers in the market today.  They are the Private Cloud (on-premise); Cloud Services Providers (off-site); and Hyperscaler Cloud Providers (off-site in a giant public cloud- like AWS).

More and more we see customers who want the flexibility to migrate their data from one cloud type to another.  This is especially true when the data value decreases over time. Additionally, many customers are still reliant on some form of legacy system, making the need for the personalization and flexibility that a platform like Data Fabric can offer even greater.

Interestingly, many healthcare institutions need to retain patient data and images on-premise in an electronic health record for an extended time frame.  The data retention rules vary from state to state and hospital to hospital.  However, there is no question that storing the patient data in a cloud- based upon its life cycle value- could help hospitals reduce cost.

GDD: Can you share with us an example of an organization in the healthcare field that has successfully deployed a cloud solution?  

BC: A large, local healthcare facility just recently rolled out NetApp’s AltaVault® platform married with our StorageGRID® Webscale object storage platform. I like to refer to this set-up as “Awesome-Vault”!

They are using AltaVault® in a cold storage gateway model which allows them to address the object storage platform in such a way that they can keep three different objects on site in real-time.

The combination set-up that we have implemented for them allows for additional storage efficiencies in addition to ramped-up loading and duplicating capabilities. It also offers an extra level of security, making their security compliant for patient images and data.

DL: Mercy in St. Louis, MO has done an outstanding job of creating a DIY cloud model with the IT infrastructure located on-premise.  Mercy is leading the way in how to leverage the cloud for both improving patient care and the organization’s bottom line.  Mercy has rolled out a very large Epic installation in conjunction with NetApp’s cost effective data storage solutions.  In turn, they have become a cloud services provider for affiliated hospitals and clinics in the region.    Additionally, Mercy Health provides consulting services to other hospitals that are planning to invest in an Epic electronic health record system.   Now that’s innovation!

Going to HIMSS?  You can find the NetApp team at Booth 4874 on the show floor.  See you there!