Storms Ahead in the Healthcare Cloud?

The results of a recent survey conducted by HIMSS show the recent widespread adoption of cloud services among healthcare organizations across the U.S., with 80 percent of the 150 respondents reporting they currently use cloud services. Adoption of cloud is for several reasons including lower maintenance costs, speed of deployment and implementation, and lack of internal staffing resources to bring solutions online. The HIMSS survey also shows positive outlook for cloud services as almost all healthcare organizations currently using cloud services plan to expand their use of these tools.

According to the survey, typical cloud services include health information exchange (HIE), hosting human resources applications and data, as well as backup and disaster recovery. Healthcare organizations take into consideration a number of factors when selecting a cloud services provider including their partner’s willingness to enter into a business associate agreement (BAA) and physical and technical security. However, even after a cloud services provider has been selected and the cloud services have been adopted by the healthcare organization, there are still challenges, including a lack of visibility into ongoing operations, customer service, costs and fees.

Half of the respondents identified performance issues like lack of responsiveness of partners as a problem, though, they remained willing to work with their existing cloud service provider to resolve their issues, rather than switch to a new one.

According to Lisa Gallagher, vice president of technology solutions at HIMSS, “Many healthcare CIOs have expressed their intention to use cloud services; however, there are some challenges related to use in healthcare and these are what we hoped to uncover. Our next step is for the healthcare industry to work with cloud service providers to move forward together in addressing these challenges.”

But as recently reported by Health IT Outcomes, the term “cloud” has historically been taboo in healthcare; a term and strategy that has meant giving up control of the hospital’s health data, as the systems to manage and collect the data are not onsite. For many, “cloud” means they sacrifice security of their information. However, the HIMSS survey only seems to suggest what’s already known and what might be becoming a trend.

For example, according to a March 2013 study released by KLAS called, “Cloud Computing Perception 2013: The Hybrid Cloud In Healthcare,” cloud users gave cloud technology an average satisfaction score of 4.5 out of five on security and cloud users were generally excited about the promise of the technology and moving away from on-site software and hardware.

Additionally, Porter Research recently determined that “cloud technologies are gaining acceptance among healthcare executives.” The study, titled “Healthcare Industry Reaches Tipping Point: CIOs Now Demand the Cloud for Shared Savings and Interoperability,” showed that 58 percent of respondents were highly confident in using cloud computing to access information from disparate locations.

The reason for this is simple: Information must be fluid, portable and easy to extrapolate. Siloed information does not facilitate the exchange of health information in a safe manner, nor does it allow for the management of internal information processes without creating walls and other barriers. Given the seeming change in sentiment and supposed acceptance of cloud applications, is there really a change in the level of trust in the technology or do hospital and practice leaders long for the lost days when servers and the information contained on them was in house and perceived as safe. Will these changes last, given the enhancements in enforcement of HIPAA violations, or will a breach — or a number of them — drive folks back to their on-premise solutions in which they feel they own the data?

As pointed out by Health IT Outcomes, “Are healthcare IT leaders really confident in cloud technologies, or are they simply using the technology out of necessity?”

This is an excellent question and if given the opportunity, or lack thereof, would healthcare organizations remain on their current in-house systems? This begs a bigger question, though: If not for solutions like cloud applications and pushes from programs like meaningful use and ICD-10, would organizations even have begun the migration to comprehensive solutions like electronic health records, electronic attachments and health information exchange, for example. Despite the answer to this question, the information represented in these findings certainly suggest that healthcare IT leaders are moving forward with implementing and using new solutions either out of necessity or because of efficiencies created.

As the healthcare industry moves forward, cloud technology and its use is going to continue pervading and conversations such as these presented here will become passé. But, the cloud is not universally accepted yet; it’s only a matter of time, of course, before it is and it’s clear that healthcare is growing more comfortable with the cloud despite any lingering concerns that remain.

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