The pros and cons of moving to the cloud for providers

Two security experts walk through healthcare cloud computing for provider CIOs, showing how the CIOs must carefully weigh many benefits with potential risks.
By Nathan Eddy
11:36 AM
The pros and cons of moving to the cloud for providers

The healthcare cloud market continues to mature, and healthcare provider IT leadership has moved from skepticism to acceptance of the cloud as an IT service delivery model.

Healthcare CIOs are becoming more comfortable with the public cloud as an option than in the past, and have begun to adopt cloud-based solutions where the benefits are clear and the risks are acceptable.

A fully developed plan

Despite the many advantages cloud technology can bring healthcare providers, it’s important for health systems and hospitals to be aware that the benefits of the cloud can only be maximized if there is a fully developed plan supporting the migration.

“Moving to the cloud can lead to a whole host of benefits but it really depends on the purpose of moving to begin with,” Dr. Abed Saif, founding partner and director of cybersecurity advisory services specialist AbedGraham, told HealthcareITNews. “It can lead to more flexible working practices, reduced in-house costs, access to more powerful applications and computing power, and even more resilient and secure systems.”

He cautioned, however, that these benefits are not universal and there will be problematic deployments and unexpected costs.

“It takes a dedicated team that’s well-resourced and effectively led to see through an effective cloud transition and manage it on an ongoing basis,” he said. “The latter point is the biggest con but is critical for achieving benefits.”

Building the IT infrastructure

Dr. Larry Ponemon, CEO and founder of the Ponemon Institute, explained a lot of smaller healthcare providers have had a difficult time building the IT infrastructure necessary to process patient data correctly and efficiently – a problem that has only grown more acute as reams of data are accrued.

Adding to this are a host of security issues that are expanding as essential care elements like connected embedded medical devices – say, an insulin pump – are WiFi-enabled and susceptible to hacking.

“What the cloud allows these providers to do is have access to the latest and greatest systems without having to make a huge investment in infrastructure,” Ponemon explained. “These types of hospitals are very important – they’re not very profitable or maybe even operate in the red – and these organizations have not been able to have access to these tools until the cloud came along.”

He cautioned that cloud migration could present its own problems as well, noting that while migrating to the cloud, events and issues like data breaches are very common.

“The real issue is during the migration, providers are susceptible to security and privacy risks,” Ponemon noted.

Lots more data

Another issue that could present challenges for providers is the simple fact of more data being available: While that’s good from a data processing point of view, many providers have not created internally the infrastructure to access all these new capabilities.

“The way many organizations invest in technology is they have a roadmap for what they’re trying to achieve, and look at vendors who can meet that strategy – in healthcare it’s more haphazard,” Ponemon said. “They buy a tool to meet an immediate need, but in many cases they’re not looking at the bigger picture.”

This means providers could wind up with more silos, thereby creating more management and access difficulties.

“While the cloud can make you more efficient, the silos and turf problem can create inefficiencies,” Ponemon said. “They’re moving to the cloud but not benefiting as much as they could if they had the right strategy in place.”

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com
Twitter: @dropdeaded209