There has been a lot of publicity lately about the benefits of cloud computing in healthcare, although hospital systems have been taking a cautious approach when it comes to moving certain applications to a cloud platform.
I recently had a conversation about the cloud with Scott MacLean, deputy CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston. He says Partners has uses the cloud in a limited way: it hosts its revenue cycle management application with a major software vendor, in what he describes as a private, corporate hosting arrangement; and also has certain software as a service (SaaS), with appropriate business associate agreements in place, at the departmental level, he says.
But when it comes moving its data to a large, enterprise grade “public” cloud service, Partners has not yet taken that step, although MacLean calls that model of the cloud intriguing. The three questions he would ask when considering the cloud center around flexibility, cost and security, he says.
On the plus side, going to the cloud offers flexibility, with the infrastructure to handle “bursts” of data for short periods of time. The second reason for considering the cloud is potential cost savings, he says.
The tradeoff is security: if there is a breach of data that is hosted on the cloud, the hospital customer’s reputation will take the hit, he says. That’s why hosting PHI is still off limits, he says.
But there are other opportunities for the cloud that MacLean thinks the cloud can be suitable. One is research, where there is plenty of data that nothing to do with PHI, the cloud could make it easier for researchers to collaborate across institutions, he says.
There are plenty of applications that would be good candidates for the cloud, those that don’t contain PHI or financial information, and there is a good business case for doing it. I think that taking a gradual approach to moving certain applications to the cloud makes sense.