Healthcare is finally moving to the cloud: is your organization ready?

Healthcare is finally moving to the cloud: is your organization ready?

Lincoln Russell

By Lincoln Russell, Director, Core BTS.

The past 24 months have changed the role of the cloud in healthcare. Previously, software solutions were usually only accessible on-premises. There was no real impetus for healthcare organizations to modernize their disconnected systems when they were within the four walls of a facility. For clinicians laser-focused on patient care, trying out new IT tools has been a low priority. Both factors made the adoption of modern cloud solutions extremely slow.

But the rise of telehealth and remote working during the pandemic changed all that. Efficient collaboration in many locations is now a business need – and a key to effective patient care. More healthcare organizations are making the decision to move their systems to the cloud to facilitate file sharing, more streamlined workflows, and other benefits.

However, moving to the cloud isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. For healthcare organizations in particular, modernizing technology systems requires careful change management and a well-thought-out governance plan. Skip these steps and your organization risks missing out on the full benefits of the cloud.

The Sources of Healthcare Organizations’ Technical Debt

Data security and regulatory compliance are the biggest concerns for healthcare providers when it comes to technology solutions – and for good reason. Healthcare organizations process large amounts of highly sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and both HIPAA and data privacy regulations such as the GDPR and CCPA impose severe penalties for violations leading to a breach.

However, these legitimate concerns have left many healthcare organizations in deep technical debt. A widespread – and inaccurate – perception that on-premises solutions are more secure than cloud-delayed adoption of modern, streamlined workflow and file management solutions. At the same time, compliance concerns pushed for accurate solutions from suppliers who could claim their products were specifically designed for healthcare customers.

While these disconnected solutions may have provided a sense of security in the short term, in the long run they pose a barrier to modernizing your technology infrastructure. Information is locked in different systems, making it difficult to make important data connections. Simply put, these supposedly secure solutions don’t talk to each other, making it harder to access data across the organization.

And despite all that, on-site solutions aren’t necessarily safer. Major cloud providers have access to top cybersecurity talent and the resources to continuously invest in security improvements. Most healthcare organizations, especially small-scale operations, do not have this level of expertise. This can lead to security gaps, especially when IT teams focus on many disconnected solutions with different security vulnerabilities and needs.

Two Steps to Prepare for the Cloud Transition

Cloud adoption streamlines collaboration, improves security and reduces technical debt, but only if you lay the right foundation. As perfect as a cloud solution is for your business, its impact is mitigated by a poorly executed rollout. When planning an effective cloud transition, these are the two steps you should never miss.

Developing a governance model

As long as healthcare organizations stuck to on-premises solutions that centralized data in one place, oversight was relatively easy. For example, if the HIPAA-compliant, healthcare-specific software tool you use to store patient records is only accessible at your facility, it’s relatively easy to avoid unauthorized access. In fact, those records can be so locked that even your employees have a hard time opening them.

When your organization finally adopts a cloud file storage solution, workloads suddenly become integrated and accessible from anywhere. This makes it even more important to ensure proper access control and regulatory compliance.

And it means that before you roll out a single cloud solution, you need to develop an approach that connects your end users to the right systems through a detailed and pre-planned governance model. You should also rethink the model as your systems and user needs evolve over time. With the cloud, especially in healthcare, governance conversations should ideally start early and never stop.

Governance is also an issue in collaboration. To collaborate effectively, end users need to have a clear picture of what information lives where, what data they have access to, and how to work well together. These parameters must be present and well understood before enabling cloud workflows.

Plan change management with the end user in mind

Too often, healthcare organizations approach the transition to the cloud as an entire technology process. But they ignore the human element at their peril. You need a comprehensive change management strategy to educate clinicians about new tools, drive adoption, and raise awareness of support systems. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how well designed the solution is: if the end user is not involved, the solution is doomed to fail.

When organizations fail to engage and train employees, the transition to the cloud is often poorly received. Employees become averse to changes in their daily work processes, and IT is caught up in catching up and trying to generate buy-in afterwards. By creating a thoughtful, accurate, and meaningful change management plan in advance, you can avoid confusion and accelerate value from your cloud solutions.

Early and often education is critical – and it must be done in a streamlined, efficient manner. Fifteen years ago you would roll out a new technology solution, everyone would come together in a training room and in a few hours you would fully understand how new tools and applications work. But that is untenable in our current healthcare system. Patient care replaces other motivators, and clinicians need to understand in a short time what you are changing and how it affects their ability to do their job. Make sure that the training and onboarding you provide suits the busy days of your employees.

Change your thinking about the cloud and healthcare

The factors that have kept healthcare organizations from adopting cloud are now pushing them towards it. Cloud adoption streamlines collaboration and improves security – if you take the right steps. With the pressure on, now is the time for your healthcare organization to begin its journey to the cloud, if you haven’t already. Make sure you have thoughtful change management and governance plans in place.

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by Scott Rupp Core BTS, Healthcare IT Security, Healthcare Cloud Security, Lincoln Russell