Cloud Journey Tips for Small and Midsized Healthcare Systems
There is no denying it: cloud technology is revolutionizing the health tech industry, and we don’t want to go back. A connected and data-driven medical industry is already upon us, but is your healthcare system walking in stride? For midsized and small healthcare systems, the daunting task of cloud migration can seem especially intimidating, but do not worry – Innovecs has your back. Today we will take you through every step (and some interesting stops) of your potential cloud journey.
CLOUD MIGRATION STRATEGIES FOR HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS
Healthcare researchers have noticed a powerful boom of cloud-based health tech happening all around us. It seems like cloud is a coveted destination for medical software, but you need to pack your bags well. Migration in healthcare systems requires careful planning and execution due to the sensitive nature of healthcare data and the need to comply with numerous regulations we will dissect later. To start off, here are some good cloud migration strategies for healthcare systems:
- Assessment and Planning. Study the existing IT infrastructure, applications, and data to identify what can be migrated to the cloud. Establish priorities and develop a detailed migration plan that includes timelines, dependencies, and resource requirements.
- Compliance and Security. Ensure compliance with healthcare regulations or choose a cloud service provider with a strong focus on healthcare security.
- Data Migration and Integration. Consider the use of healthcare interoperability standards such as HL7 and FHIR for data integration and test your data migration processes thoroughly.
- Hybrid or Multi-Cloud Approach. Consider a hybrid or multi-cloud approach to balance the benefits of cloud services with on-premises infrastructure (critical applications or highly sensitive data may remain on-premises, while less sensitive or more scalable services can be moved to the cloud).
- Scalability and Performance. Leverage cloud scalability to accommodate variable workloads and ensure optimal performance. Implement load balancing and auto-scaling mechanisms to handle fluctuations in demand.
- Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity. Develop, regularly test and update the disaster recovery plan to reflect changes in the cloud environment.
- User Training and Change Management. Provide training to healthcare staff and implement a change management plan to address the challenges during the migration process.
- Cost Management. Leverage cost management tools provided by the cloud service provider, and implement measures such as resource tagging (depending of the vendor).
- Continuous Improvement. Get feedback from healthcare professionals and IT staff, and use it to regularly update the cloud environment.
Remember that the specific strategy may vary based on the healthcare organization’s size, existing infrastructure, and unique requirements. It’s crucial to engage stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, IT teams, and compliance officers, throughout the migration process. In addition to that, three categories of healthcare development deserve your special attention if you want to build a resilient system: security, scalability, and disaster recovery.
Security Measures for Healthcare Cloud Adoption
Security is a paramount concern for healthcare organizations, especially when transitioning to the cloud, where sensitive patient data is involved. The New Stack’s recent article suggests healthcare organizations prioritize compliance, data security, infrastructure security, auditing, training and awareness during their transition to the cloud. A small to midsized healthcare system can do so by following these suggestions:
- Utilize strong encryption mechanisms. Add encryption for databases, storage systems, and communication channels.
- Establish comprehensive audit trails to monitor and log access to patient data.
- Regularly review, analyze, update, and patch.
- Backup patient data and ensure that backup processes are secure by testing them.
- Conduct regular security assessments and code reviews to identify and remediate vulnerabilities.
Healthcare industry has learned many data-related lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessity to prepare for unprecedented influxes of new data is implied in most of them. Even without new world-changing diseases, the ability to withstand changing volumes of patient information is the backbone of any modern healthcare system. However, laying down that groundwork is no easy feat. According to Ekascloud, scalability in health tech is a real challenge. Variating amounts of patients, the growing pains of adapting to electronic health records, and the complex workflows of healthcare professionals all create unavoidable bottlenecks in IT infrastructure development. Several software options can help set the stage for a scalable healthcare system early on:
- Flexible architecture, microservices, and on-demand scalability. Taking the modular route will help you to independently change parts of your infrastructure, and therefore protect the larger system from damage that affects its separate elements. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud also offer resources that will grow or shrink your infrastructure on demand.
- Clinical clouds. These cloud-based platforms or solutions are designed to support clinical trials and healthcare research. These platforms leverage cloud computing technology to provide scalable, secure, and accessible solutions for managing clinical data.
- Data lakes and data warehouses. Data lakes excel at storing and analyzing raw, unstructured data for exploratory analytics and data science initiatives, and data warehouses are optimized for storing structured data, enabling fast query performance, and supporting business intelligence and decision-making processes. Data lakes in particular are highly scalable and can handle large volumes of data from various sources without requiring upfront schema definition or data transformation.
What If It Fails
Even the best-constructed system needs a backup, also known as disaster recovery plan or DRP. To create one, be honest about your healthcare system’s weak spots, and do not be afraid to think outside the usual IT box. Healthcare App Designer Navaneethakrishna Ramanathan invites to consider natural disasters and power outages in addition to cyberattacks or equipment failures. Establish recovery point objective (RPO) and the recovery time objective (RTO), dealing with the maximum amount of data you can afford to lose, and the time it will take to restore it.
Afterwards comes the strategizing. According to Optimum, a good DRP should include “data backups, regular testing of backups, a plan for restoring data and systems quickly, redundant systems to minimize downtime, and procedures for communicating with employees and customers”. You can put a disaster recovery plan together and implement it yourself, or look for something out-of-the-box. Disaster Recovery as A Service is a bustling market. For example, Acronis is a cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solution that complies with HIPAA and costs $85 a year.
COMPLIANCE IN HEALTHCARE CLOUD SOLUTIONS
Migrating a healthcare system to the cloud is not the same as moving any other sophisticated piece of software. Dealing with highly personal information, the healthcare industry is subject to numerous compliance standards to protect patient privacy and ensure the security of healthcare data. Let’s take a look at the most prominent regulations that healthcare systems have to keep in mind when moving to cloud:
- HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a U.S. federal law that sets standards for the protection of sensitive patient health information (PHI).
- HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) enhances HIPAA by introducing additional privacy and security audits and promoting the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs).
- GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a European Union regulation that governs the protection of personal data, including healthcare data. If a healthcare organization operates in or processes data of individuals in the EU, it must comply with GDPR regulations regarding the processing and protection of personal information.
- FDA Regulations address the use of medical devices, health information technology (HIT), and software as a medical device (SaMD).
Healthcare organizations considering cloud migration should work closely with legal and compliance teams to develop a migration strategy that aligns with these standards. In addition to these specific acts, there are also state and regional regulations that may vary from country to country, as well as niche data residency requirements. On top of that, you might have to ensure compliance with healthcare interoperability standards, such as HL7 FHIR, to facilitate the exchange of healthcare information between systems. Moving healthcare systems to cloud is a big step that requires lots of legal research, but engaging with cloud service providers that offer HIPAA-compliant services and tools can simplify the compliance process by a lot.
CHOOSING A HIPAA-COMPLIANT CLOUD SERVICE PROVIDER
A reliable cloud service provider will be the backbone of a healthcare system’s cloud journey, but it will also be a serious long-term commitment. This inspires a careful and thoughtful selection process. The main players are, as always, Amazon Web Services, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform, with AWS far ahead for HIT vendors.
While the giants of cloud industry all offer a huge spectrum of services, resist the temptation to wing the final choice. On the contrary, it is paramount to select the option that will be tailored to a given healthcare system’s specific needs. Here is a potential checklist that will help to get a better grip on your priorities during the search.
- Understand Specific Requirements. Identify the needs and objectives of the healthcare system, including compliance requirements (e.g., HIPAA), data residency, performance expectations, and budget constraints.
- Evaluate Security and Compliance. Assess the cloud provider’s security measures and data protection policies to ensure they align with healthcare industry standards. Review the provider’s track record of security incidents and their response mechanisms for handling breaches.
- Consider Data Residency. Determine whether the cloud provider offers data centers in regions that comply with relevant data residency requirements and regulations. Ensure that the provider offers transparency regarding the physical location of data centers and data sovereignty policies.
- Assess Performance and Scalability. Check out the cloud provider’s infrastructure and network capabilities to ensure they can support the performance requirements of the healthcare services you already have, as well as the data and functions you may add later.
- Review Service Offerings. Assess the range and depth of cloud services offered by the provider, including compute, storage, networking, databases, AI/ML, and managed services. Determine whether the provider offers specialized healthcare solutions or partnerships that cater to the unique needs of your intended audience.
- Examine Reliability and Disaster Recovery. Evaluate the cloud provider’s uptime guarantees, service-level agreements (SLAs), and disaster recovery procedures.
- Consider Vendor Lock-in and Interoperability. Assess the ease of integration with existing systems and applications, as well as the potential for vendor lock-in with proprietary technologies. Choose a cloud provider that supports interoperability with other healthcare systems.
- Evaluate Pricing Models. Compare the billing options for services offered by different cloud providers. Try to honestly, but open-mindedly plan for which services your small to midsize healthcare system is likely to use. Consider factors such as usage-based pricing, discounts for long-term commitments, and cost optimization tools to minimize expenses without compromising performance or security.
- Seek References. Gather insights industry peers who have experience with the cloud providers under consideration. Look for reviews that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each provider in the context of healthcare IT.
Cost-Efficient Side of The Market
Cloud services that are already compliant with international safety regulations can save you lots of legwork, but they also might take a toll on a small healthcare system’s finances. In an industry whose most famous grievance is the lack of funding, frugality is a must. If you want to begin your road towards affordable healthcare on the inside, several cloud providers will be helpful in establishing a cost-effective strategy from the start.
Atlantic offers cloud hosting and storage, one-click apps, and cloud-based environments, backed by 100% uptime SLA. In addition to monthly plans, that start from $4, Atlantic also has hourly plans, free consultation services, and free trial period with additional $250 credit. This cloud solution is top-rated for security and managed services and is compliant with HIPAA, HITECH, PCI, GDPR, or SOC requirements.
This cloud infrastructure prides itself on the ability to cut costs with no detriment to performance. It offers premade self-service applications as well as a Free Tier that allows to build, test and deploy custom healthcare apps. Oracle is also very research-friendly when it comes to pricing. Their website features an extensive breakdown of price per service, as well as a highly competitive comparison table with AWS, Azure, and GCP.
INTEGRATION OF SPARATE CLOUD TECHNOLOGIES IN HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS
The use of cloud technology in healthcare is widespread, and has layers to it. While a small to midsized healthcare system can be fully cloud-based, using separate elements of cloud technology to simplify development and optimize workflow is just as viable. Your healthcare system may turn to either of the three popular models of “cloud by distribution” services that “rent out” different features via cloud.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provides access to third-party hardware facilities on request. A midsized healthcare system will benefit from this approach by removing the need to buy its own IT equipment, but a smaller project may not need the full scope of data centers IaaS usually has to offer.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is a great solution to build, test, and deploy your software in a separate, available on-request environment, instead of searching for the right tools and hardware locally.
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) sells subscriptions to ready-made software solutions, usually on either monthly or annual basis.
The current “as a service” market is a bustling industry, full of companies that are eager to guide you through the implementation process, but you are well within your right to integrate separate cloud technologies your own way. After all, when it comes to cloud, everybody has their own approach:
The integration of cloud technology can start small. Evgeniy Altynpara of Cleveroad describes emails and even faxes (that are still a surprising reality of healthcare institutions) as first things your healthcare system can move to the cloud. As you move forward and get bolder with your implementation of cloud computing, consider the following steps:
- Define your implementation goals;
- List everything subject to cloud migration;
- Set a budget;
- Settle on a vendor using our previous tips about HIPAA-compliant cloud providers;
- Once your system is up and running, consider adding a collaboration tool.
Collaboration Tools for Healthcare Cloud Environments
Collaboration tools are software applications and platforms designed to facilitate communication, coordination, and teamwork among individuals and groups, regardless of their physical location. These tools enable users to share information and work together in real-time. In healthcare industry, collaboration tools remove geographical boundaries and “allow for expert consultations and interdisciplinary interaction”.
Your system’s cloud journey can be short or long; intuitive or inspiring to learn as you go, but at the end of the day it will always be worth the commute. In 2024 it is obvious that cloud-based healthcare is the way of the future, and there are plenty of services and providers that will gladly hold your hand through this transformative process. We can help you start on this road here and now!
Innovecs is a global digital transformation tech partner, with a decade of cloud-driven solutions behind our back. We are currently using our expertise to get deeper into health tech. Feel free to explore or cloud solutions or reach out to us for a face-to-face consultation on how to innovate your healthcare system.