The business case for health insurers to embrace public cloud

Sharing systems and data, speed to market and agility and improved security are among the reasons payers are making the move to cloud.
By Nathan Eddy
09:02 AM
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Cloud-based technology has several business use cases for health insurers, ranging from helping to process and store increasing volumes of data to analyzing the data.

A survey from IT research firm IDC in 2018 found more than half (52 percent) of payers are deploying or in the next 24 months will deploy analytic workloads and applications to the public cloud.

Public cloud use follows the same pattern, with 50 percent of payers indicating existing or planned deployment by year-end 2020.

Cloud benefits for payers

“You can share systems a lot easier if you are using a common platform, and the ability to work anyway is greatly expanded by the use of the cloud,” said Jeff Rivkin IDC’s research director of payer IT strategies. “The ability to have companies be virtual and realign themselves without moving staff or IT around is very helpful.”  

On the whole, cloud infrastructure is easily accessible through application programming interfaces (APIs) and through interface engines, allowing virtually any environment to include some cloud components.

“Cloud-based technology opens doors to much broader capabilities than those that are typically found in a similar solution delivered through on-premises systems,” Rivkin said.

Speed to market and agility

Another major reason to embrace the cloud is to get applications up and running faster — agility simply makes payers more competitive.

“They have to become more nimble, Rivkin said. “On the business side, cloud can help execute projects that can differentiate the insurer, and on the operational side, better computing power, analytics things like that. It comes inside out and outside in.”

He explained through simple connections to other systems, both cloud and otherwise, cloud infrastructures offer quick response times and broad connections that can have significant advantages, such as improving data analytics, offloading data storage and introducing machine learning.

“The interoperability between payers and the rest of the health system is still on the growth path, and you don’t have to build hard pipes between organizations--that’s a good thing,” Rivkin said. “Providers and payers are trying to figure out models that work for them.”

He also noted there are consumer engagement use cases, tied into the growing use of wearables, telehealth and a better consumer experience overall.

“All of this requires the integration of cloud data over and above the clinical things,” Rivkin said. “Health insurers are looking for the cloud to be useful that way as well.”  

Humana’s Digital Experience Center Director Antonio Melo said at HIMSS19 in Orlando in February that tapping into cloud services is critical to the payer’s shift from an institution-first model to a consumer-first approach.

That requires reaching people where they spend much of their time.

“How do we reinvent who is improving care in the home?” Melo said. “How do we create contextually relevant experiences for what might be considered low-level care?”

Security in the cloud

Larry Ponemon chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, noted middle-size organizations can benefit by having access to data and applications and tools, and also have more security.

“All of these things are available as a service from the cloud to the customer,” he said. “If you put it against the legacy system, there’s no comparison in the ability to lower risk and provide more security.”

He explained that with the change in healthcare regulations, requirements to share data across partners and business units, and the chain of custody of data, mean making sure that process is controlled and secure.

“There is a heavy reliance on cloud because the cost of doing business has been increasing,” Ponemon said. “And a lot of these companies are looking for ways to increase scalability and be more agile.”  

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.

Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.