Healthcare in the Cloud: Six tips for adoption

The landscape of healthcare in the UK has changed dramatically over the last few years.

This is not only down to pharmaceutical developments that have enhanced how diseases and illnesses are tackled, such as the early detection of Parkinson’s Disease, the recent discovery of a root cause of asthma (CaSR) and the vaccines to protect against HPV, but also the advances made in technology that have helped to better equip the medical profession as a whole.

Big data and mobile devices

Ten years ago we were still talking about the migration to digital patient records, but the advent of big data coupled with other technical advances such as mobile devices and adoption of the cloud mean that the healthcare market is taking another giant leap forward in how it develops treatment, cares for patients and supports those working across the health sector.

So what are some of the key technological advancements that have helped to bring about this shift? According to IDC, the market for big data will reach $16.9 billion in 2015, growing six times faster than the overall IT market. For the healthcare sector that means a shift from simply diagnosing and treating illness to now being able to predict, anticipate and prevent illness.

In addition, a study by management consultants, PwC, estimates that mobile health could help cut healthcare costs by up to $400 billion across developed countries by 2017. When you consider the rapid adoption of mobile and wearable devices - that’s a promising sign of innovation across the sector. In October 2014 YouGov’s new wearables tracker research reported that 2.8m people in the UK alone own a wearable technology device but that was likely to increase to 6.1m by September 2015.

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director, indicated his support of wearables during an interview with The Guardian late last year, saying that a wearable device “enables you to predict things, to act early and to prevent unnecessary admissions, thereby not only taking a load off the NHS but, more importantly, actually keeping somebody safe and feeling good.”

Health services move to the cloud

With the proportion of worldwide cloud-related spend set to rise to 3.8 trillion this year you’ll struggle to meet a senior exec who hasn’t migrated some of their IT requirements to the cloud or at the very least seriously considered it.

And that’s the same for the healthcare sector. As Barry Runyon, a research VP for Gartner, who focuses on the healthcare sector, recently commented, “Healthcare providers' growing infrastructure, system and support requirements – compounded by tight budgets and IT staffing issues – will continue to drive them toward a hybrid IT environment in which the cloud will play an increasing role.”

Runyon added that healthcare providers use cloud services for things like email, content management, medical image archiving, medical record systems, health information exchanges, portals, natural language processing, enterprise content management, secure texting, clinical collaboration, transcription services, mobile device management, analytics, legacy decommissioning, and disaster recovery.

"My sense is that a significant percentage of the healthcare providers' workload will move to the cloud in the next 5-10 years," Runyon said. "The healthcare provider has been taking measured steps toward the cloud over the past few years and while it hasn't embraced the cloud entirely, it has accepted the fact that it has its place and will play a bigger role in IT service delivery in the next few years as cloud service providers mature."

What’s driving demand for cloud?

Despite increased Government spending on the NHS, budgets remain squeezed and with a UK population estimated to increase by 4.9 million by 2020 it’s little surprise that those in both the private healthcare sector and the NHS are looking to take steps that increase efficiencies while driving down costs. The reasons for adopting cloud in the healthcare sector range from:

  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Speed of deployment and minimal impact upon internal staff resourcing
  • Senior executives are now more comfortable with cloud as a viable IT option
  • Improved efficiencies and therefore reduced costs.

However, with all these smart connected devices, big data and real-time access to critical information comes a number of concerns for a sector such as healthcare. Predominantly data security and privacy are a huge concern, especially in such a heavily regulated market. So what should healthcare trusts and authorities be looking for when exploring whether a cloud infrastructure supports their needs?

Finding a cloud provider for healthcare

Peace of mind around cloud technology can only be achieved through a thorough assessment of the providers available to you. Consider not just cost and time saving but a partner who can help you migrate at your own speed – you don’t have to migrate everything and in fact, there may be good reasons to select a ‘hybrid colocation’ solution, mixing your existing physical infrastructure with the flexibility of a virtual one.

Geographic proximity of a cloud provider to your existing operations is critical - 58 per cent of IT buyers say the location of their cloud provider matters. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If your cloud is based solely in the UK you can be sure that the service is fully compliant with UK and EU legislation, especially if it’s ISO27001 security accredited.
  2. Speed of access to the cloud is also vastly improved if the actual distance travelled is kept to a minimum. Reducing latency to the cloud is important when accessing urgent data. (NHS providers tend to prefer cloud services which are N3 connected or available over a VPN.)
  3. Even though you shouldn’t need to visit your cloud facility, your auditors may wish to assess the physical security and capability to deal with extreme weather such as flooding or heat waves.
  4. Should there be a problem, it is simply easier to communicate with support staff who speak your language and work in the same time zone.
  5. One final, but vital point – data – where you keep it and store it is critical. As more and more criminal and terrorist events around the world occur, governments will get tougher on meeting regulatory measures such as the Patriot Act. Even privacy-conscious France is considering new surveillance laws.

Be clear about where your services are being used and where your data resides, and don’t be seduced by cost savings from foreign cloud providers, as it could land you in hot water with national regulators. Selecting a good quality local cloud provider that offers support and access to your virtual servers and data will reap dividends in the long run (as well as provide peace of mind).

4D-DC’s Top Tips for cloud adoption

  1. Find out what management tools or applications are available to control data, apps and processes. How well does it integrate with existing management systems?
  2. Ensure that the cloud platform and data centre(s) it’s managed from meet your security requirements.
  3. Make sure you know how the SLA is defined. What type of compensation is offered if levels aren’t met?
  4. Pin down how cloud usage is calculated. What SLA-defined support is included?
  5. Assess how experienced, trustworthy, agile and accommodating your cloud provider is.
  6. Make sure you can port your data and apps if you find a better offer or if the current provider goes bust or changes ownership.

Jack Bedell-Pearce, Managing Director, 4D-DC

Image source: Shutterstock/alexmillos