Next up for healthcare: 'multi-cloud'

'With worries about hacking and data breaches, they want to be able to spread out the risk'
By John Andrews
09:58 AM
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In five short years, the cloud has evolved from a curious, unproven concept to almost a way of life in healthcare. Advancements in technology and more widespread acceptance from providers have made it an integral part of the IT landscape.

With questions about security, functionality and dependability asked and answered, vendors are now turning their sights on new horizons for utilization. And based on the potential for infinite computing power and storage, the sky seems to be the limit for future applications, system suppliers say.

[See also: To free up IT staff, hospital looks to the cloud]

Among the new purposes for the cloud is tapping into multiple cloud servers, says Matt Ferrari, chief technology officer for Tempe, Ariz.-based ClearDATA.

[See also: Cloud choice no longer 'pie in the sky']

"The future is about multi-cloud," he says. "The belief is the industry will have organizations that put their systems into multiple clouds across different vendors. With worries about hacking and data breaches, they want to be able to spread out the risk. That's how our conversation with Amazon began."

By forging a partnership with Amazon, ClearDATA provides security and healthcare-specific managed services that alleviates the need for clients to hire additional experts in meaningful use or cloud, Ferrari said.

"We are not just a reseller of Amazon -- we have built our own IT platform, a single pane of glass," he said. "The goal is to allow a healthcare organization to log into the pane of glass, choose the workload they want and be able to provision it, all backed by our team."

Lake Geneva, Wis.-based Primex Wireless also has a relationship with Amazon for its asset monitoring technology.

Using Amazon architecture, Primex Wireless offers environmental monitoring for refrigerated assets as well as time synchronization across the enterprise. President Brian Balboni says the system is "totally invisible…if things are running normally, no one knows it's there." That way, it saves valuable bandwidth, he says.

The cloud advantage goes beyond hosting, Balboni says.

"You don't have to support an appliance on premises – it more efficient for us to manage," he said. "We're not just hosting on Amazon – we're built into the infrastructure. We take care of all the security and operating system updates. We're doing things with Amazon you can't do anywhere else."

One of the most exciting aspects of cloud computing is it gives providers access to sophisticated programs like machine learning and predictive analytics on top of legacy applications, says Paul Roma, principal with New York-based Deloitte Consulting's ConvergeHEALTH division.

"We are excited about how the cloud can link advanced computing to organizations that may not have the ability otherwise," he said. "For a low cost, they can have access to IBM Bluemix and Watson for predictive analytics and advanced cognitive technologies."

By utilizing the Bluemix cloud, a provider can get predictive algorithms on hospital readmissions, upload and run it without having to understand all the machinations involved, Roma says.

"It gives you a rapid deployment of algorithms and into integration that you can access in real time and that is scalable," he said. "It offers access to a vast reservoir of pre-computed APIs (applicable programming interface). If you want to use readmission analysis, send the data and markup file with x amount; you don't need to call anyone – just send it your file and you get your answer back."

Cloud technology "is very much in the drinking water of any IT decision making," says Brett Furst, CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ArborMetrix, pointing out that more than 80 percent of healthcare organizations have some sort of cloud-based solution.

"Obviously from where it was five years ago, the trust is there," he said. "It requires a strategy that understand the issues. If personal health information somehow leaks out, your institution didn't follow the right protocols and best practices."

Having a cloud server has become necessary to pursue big data strategies and aggregation of information, Furst says, because it has the capacity to handle it.

"It fits very much into transparency projects – pulling data from disparate caregivers and aggregating opportunities for best practices, delivering care and retrospective analysis," he said. "You can reference this data from any point – you just need to be effective in how you collect and share the data."

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