The Canadian healthcare system is famously slow to adopt new technologies. The current shift toward cloud-based technologies is a recent and illustrative example.
The medical industry’s hesitation stems from the cloud industry’s general inability thus far to clarify how cloud services can securely and cost-effectively enable its growth. Well-publicized data privacy breaches of online services, which are affecting almost every industry, have raised major concerns with the safety of online services in general.
This makes the barriers seem high, the costs unsustainable, the systems opaque, and benefits unclear. The status quo appears to be better, and the 85 percent of Canadians who only have paper records will still ultimately be served, securely. The medical context, however, is different: the purpose is not to facilitate instant commerce, but rather to securely and cost-effectively improve the quality of care and workflow throughput. The demands of an aging and growing population will make force-multipliers like cloud necessary, not optional.
Cloud-based platforms can incrementally provide benefits for those who are cautious and mitigate the spectrum of risks that can be caused by technology, specific processes, and human error. Consider a few examples that illustrate how secure cloud-based approaches allow for centralized management, disaster recovery and wide-spanning control:
• Data backups are crucial, even for paper records. Most medical practitioners and a vast number of residents caught within the eye wall path of Hurricane Katrina irretrievably lost paper medical records. A private cloud-based file service that contains scans of patient records is a simple and cost-effective disaster recovery and business continuity measure.
• Process circumvention is a sizable, invisible and inadvertent cause of costly and continual security breaches. For example, inventory systems that aren’t available hospital-wide not only create massive overspending and under-delivery, they also create security risks. A secure and monitored centralized system that is backed up not only creates greater availability, it also prevents dangerous circumvention and ease of audit.
• Centralized management can help securely scale organizations. Healthcare consultancies and group practices are increasingly using laptops to enable a more agile and distributed workforce in order to scale. Cloud-management (controlling the laptops from the cloud) can nearly eliminate almost all of the most common risks associated with carrying sensitive data off-site – lost, compromised and stolen mobile hardware account for over 70 percent of data privacy breaches in distributed workforce firms.
Most practices and facilities depend on technology for simple tasks like scheduling and accounting. But factors like availability, integrity, reporting, appropriate access levels, enforcing process compliance, and backups are almost universally overlooked. It is these factors which pose the most major and frequent threats to data privacy.
It’s a popular misconception that solutions can be provided only by the large, well-known public cloud providers. In fact, cloud services can very much be run privately, and on-site, in essence as a private on-site cloud. Mixing and matching locations is also possible and, in fact, encouraged: that’s what makes it a “cloud.”
Virtualization is one of the best first steps to ease management and help simplify the creation of data and process portability for resilient and central management. This model allows for consistency and transparency and shapes processes and people to ensure security. Backups, security, updates and upgrades all instantly become easier, and at a fraction of the current cost of the methods that 95 percent of practitioners and facilities use to maintain their infrastructure. And that does not count the opportunity cost.
Cloud providers who offer managed services can leverage technologies that afford them massive economies of scale and create a steady and pain-free transparent migration plan. Clients should seek cloud providers with industry-specific service experience, not just product expertise. Auditing, patching and updating an entire hospital’s worth of virtual technology infrastructure can be achieved by one person in about an hour.
Applications of the cloud in the healthcare industry are numerous, and the benefits greatly exceed the risks and costs that are involved. Compliance, privacy and security are attributes that a good end-to-end cloud provider will address and implement by considering the total combination of people, processes, policies and technology.
The expanding reach of cloud services will inevitably touch the medical industry. It’s simply a matter of taking a first, small step.