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State and local healthcare providers turn to the public cloud

aws Oct 03, 2017 03:35 pm

With the public cloud, state and local healthcare organizations can cost-efficiently and securely manage patient data, while freeing resources to create innovations that improve healthcare outcomes and operations.

A state-run health insurance exchange or a rural medical center isn’t like a for-profit business.  Dependent on ever-tightening public funds while serving ever-growing patient populations, government healthcare providers face a number of unique challenges.

“These entities are often taking care of people who don’t have other options,” said Michael Jackson, global lead in public sector healthcare for Amazon Web Services. While commercial healthcare providers may worry about losing a customer to a competitor, government organizations more often than not worry about “not investing in technology that’ll let them do more with less,” he said.  

Just like their for-profit counterparts, public healthcare organizations confront payment reform, or the switch from “fee for service” to “value,” as well as a flat or declining number of physicians. Compounding these pressures, there’s the uncertainty over the direction of insurance legislation – specifically, the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

The cloud can help, and can achieve the “Triple Aim,” a framework devised by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: improving the patient experience, improving health outcomes and lowering costs.

Take Maryland’s Total Human services Information Network (MD THINK), a major project that will pull together real-time data across 20 health and service agencies, including Medicaid, into a cloud-based data repository.

Because they can contain both structured and unstructured data, data lakes like MD THINK provide a way to detect patterns. “They let physicians or healthcare policy officials better allocate resources to proactively improve outcomes for individuals or entire populations,” Jackson said. Such unified systems also “cut down on fraud, waste and abuse, and improve agency collaboration,” he added.

The great equalizer

The cloud provides a state-of-the-art infrastructure (compute, network, facilities) that the vast majority of enterprises cannot match with on-premise data centers. For this reason, Jackson calls the cloud “the great equalizer.” “A small county agency or hospital will have access to same level of innovation as a better-funded federal agency or academic center,” he said.

With pay-as-you-go cloud infrastructures, some customers have moved their IT expense from capital expenses to operating expenses. This could be an especially attractive solution for cash-strapped government organizations looking to avoid the capital costs of an on-premise data center. 

Encouraging innovation

But the cloud’s real benefit, Jackson said, is how it frees IT resources and people, who can now focus on innovative solutions, rather than routine, “nondifferentiating” tasks, such as data center maintenance.

Jackson sees a typical progression when it comes to cloud adoption:  

  • Testing and development of new ideas, such as creating a mobile-first patient information portal
  • Managing digital assets, such as websites and mobile/social apps
  • Moving mission-critical enterprise applications, such as EHRs

At a final stage, some organizations may opt to move their entire data operation to the cloud (or a hybrid environment).

Patient health

Because municipalities and states face an onslaught of aging, at-risk patients, improved data sharing via the cloud will be essential, Jackson said. “Every day in the U.S., 10,000 people celebrate their 65th birthday … and, unfortunately, many are suffering from chronic conditions,” he said.

Meanwhile, sharing of data sets in the cloud will lead to better analytics and break down data silos. From a clinical perspective, this will this mean more personalized healthcare, and better patient outcomes. From an operational perspective, improved analytics will give government healthcare entities a better understanding of their care utilization, which is vital for both cost containment and resource allocation.

Making the move

For state or local healthcare providers evaluating a cloud move, Jackson recommends starting with patient needs. 

“When you think about it, that’s how we end up with these seismic, transformative solutions,” he said. Enabling patients to use a smartphone to interact with their own health record will prompt the integration of multiple records within a hospital, which can lead to a statewide hospital network and then a group of agencies integrating their records.

“The cloud inherently facilitates the creation of single repository through which all stakeholders can contribute and communicate, with the data and with each other,” Jackson said. “You can treat more patients, more efficiently, in a more engaging way. It’s a win-win for everybody.”