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Cloud computing concerns in the healthcare sector

As hospitals turn to the cloud storage to house an increasing volume of EHRs, providers must take steps to protect sensitive information.

As doctors and other healthcare professionals adopt technology trends such as bring-your-own-device, IT departments in the medical industry have faced a number of challenges. First, there is the issue of infrastructure management. Hospital technical staff have to contend with higher bandwidth usage due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the field, as well as heftier capacity needs as adoption of EHRs increases. The second issue that frequently challenges health IT projects is security. As more patient information becomes digitized, the risk of a data breach becomes an increasingly significant threat. As an infographic from Healthcare IT News showcases, the biggest medical data breaches of 2012 involved hundreds of thousands of records.

Some of the less effective BYOD deployments can be attributed to a misalignment of goals between the overall organization and adoption of technology. However, another reason medical organizations have been struggling is that their practices and the needs of IT have changed dramatically in the last few years. According to CloudTweaks, cloud storage services are ideal for addressing many of the new challenges the medical industry faces.

The cloud makes Infrastructure management easier in a BYOD-enabled environments. Rather than backing up mission-critical applications with onsite storage, hospitals can rely on a cloud data center for saving and protecting their software. CloudTweaks suggested organizations will also be able to alleviate many of the security concerns that come from mobility. By carefully vetting potential partners and ensuring they provide a safe IT environment, organizations can store sensitive data in the cloud rather than on personal devices that can be lost or stolen.

“Although cloud computing offers significant advantages to the health care industry, it is still perceived by some as unsafe,” the article stated. “The most common concerns are those that make any other business, from any industry, be reluctant to adopting cloud technologies: security and confidentiality of patient information, interoperability and compliance with government regulations. These can all be overcome by doing your due diligence and selecting the right partners.”

Health IT and data ownership
Focusing on addressing common concerns early in the negotiation phase will help cloud storage companies become more attractive in the health sector, particularly as organizations manage increasingly complex IT environments. Other concerns, such as data ownership, should also be addressed so that each party has clear visibility of its responsibilities in the cloud agreement. IT security executive Jon Shende recently noted that compliance assurances are likely to be particularly attractive in regulated industries. Cloud providers targeting this arena can benefit from clearly outlining their standing with mandates such as the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act. HIPAA has a number of provisions, including best practices for encrypting data, but its meaningful use policy also plays a significant role in health IT discussions. 

Meaningful use includes best practices for those participating in the government’s EHR incentive program. It requires physicians to conduct thorough risk assessments and identify potential areas of vulnerability so that digitized personally identifiable information is protected against data thievery. This places significant value on transparency from cloud providers so that customers in the health sector have a clear vision of how their assets are protected. 

In addition to security and compliance, Shende emphasized the importance of reliability. Budgetary limitations make it difficult for health IT to manage 99.999 percent availability within their own infrastructure, and many have turned to the cloud to improve system uptime. This presents significant opportunity, but also means that cloud storage companies face increased pressure to build layers of redundancy into their data centers.

“Looking to the cloud as a solution is not only the next step in services but will ensure high availability of clinical applications,” Shende wrote. “This will allow a healthcare organization to leverage the expertise and financial stability of an established CSP. Another advantage of leveraging a cloud ecosystem, is that of rapid provisioning and deployment, with the ability to change compute capacity as demand changes.”