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Is Cloud Computing Ready for Primetime in Healthcare?

February 22, 2013
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Weighing options on the cloud

While researching an article on cloud computing recently, I had an opportunity to interview hospital CIOs on their opinions of the cloud. Although the CIOs I spoke with acknowledged potential benefits of the cloud to reduce costs and foster more collaboration among users, they are taking a decidedly cautious approach when it comes to implementing it in their organizations.

Chuck Podesta, senior vice president and CIO of Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., for example, says healthcare provider organizations will be “one of the last frontiers” to use the cloud. His main concern is around security, particularly with protected health information. Nonetheless, he thinks more organizations will take advantage of the cloud as security improves. He adds that one area where the cloud makes sense is imaging, because of the bandwidth requirements to share images.

Scott Whyte, vice president of IT connectivity at Dignity Health, a 39-hospital system based in San Francisco, says the organization’s move to the cloud has gradually expanded; he says Dignity Health has taken a strategic approach to the cloud, where the solution needs to be implemented quickly, is highly secure, and compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. He describes a “portfolio approach” to the cloud, in which its applications are divided among the cloud, hosted by the vendor or as a SaaS, and its own enterprise data center.

In Whyte’s view, one driver in cloud adoption in the future will be as a collaborative platform. After all, he points out, most health systems in the country are not comprehensive systems that combine the health plan, hospital and physician group all under one umbrella. When one takes into account the different reimbursement models and care delivery models that will be paired together, many of these groups will need to collaborate, and there are advantages to being able to share and house information in different locations, he says. He says the cloud is able to foster collaboration between external partners in a way that can be implemented quickly.

Of course, all of the partner can expect that there will be an auditable process in place, and that their information is secure. That’s where the choice of a cloud service provider can either make or break the cloud as a platform for collaboration. He suggests that criteria for evaluating a qualified cloud service provider goes beyond strictly technology issues to “thought leadership, skills, and an understanding of the healthcare space.” To be sure, choosing a qualified cloud service provider is a bridge that must be crossed by any healthcare CIO considering a move to the cloud, regardless of the type of application.

Turn to the cloud computing story in the March issue of Healthcare Informatics for more on what CIOs and IT experts say about making a choice that makes sense for the organization.