One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we’re seeing faster adoption of cloud-based solutions in sectors that were previously slow to adopt them, such as healthcare. With an urgent need to enable a remote workforce, provide virtual care and track hospital resources, health care providers are now increasingly relying on cloud-based workflows and applications.
They also have unique requirements for patient privacy and safety, along with data certification and classification, and often face budgetary constraints. Despite these challenges, the future of healthcare is patient-centric, digitally enabled and evidence-based — and cloud is well-positioned to support this paradigm shift.
Streamlining the patient journey
During the pandemic, we’ve seen how patients can benefit from improved access to care through advances in telemedicine and chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI). With these types of cloud-based solutions, patients typically experience faster responses to health inquiries and reduced wait times, as well as increased autonomy through access to their own health data and interactive scheduling.
Care providers can also benefit through solutions that deliver improved demand forecasts and automated triage. Cloud provides a foundation for evidenced-based, insight-driven care, such as AI-assisted diagnostics and clinical decision support at the point of care. It also allows for safe data sharing and clinical collaboration between care providers to promote seamless patient management, which in turn lays the foundation for a connected, data-driven healthcare ecosystem.
Cloud for vaccine management
Cloud allows any organization to quickly provision and manage scalable computing services, but it’s particularly beneficial for the health-care sector. Consider COVID-19 vaccination management: scalable, flexible infrastructure that can handle a rapid increase in website traffic is critical for online vaccination registrations. With cloud, this can be achieved with the click of a button, without the need to expand local servers and hosting capabilities.
When registering for vaccines, patients are often required to enter personal data, including their health information. Major cloud service providers have the capabilities to provide best-in-class security and compliance in their cloud environments, especially when compared to the on-premise capabilities of healthcare organizations.
The ability to easily and securely transfer healthcare data across providers and platforms allows for the efficient collection and aggregation of vaccination data from various sources. Cloud-based intelligence solutions can analyze and visualize this data in real time, drawing insights relevant to population health management and enabling an insight-driven approach in forecasting future capacity and demand.
Perceived risks of cloud adoption
When adopting cloud solutions, management may be concerned about perceived risks and challenges, such as inadequate security and compliance in cloud environments. After all, patient data is sensitive and the consequences of a data breach are significant, as reflected by such stringent health-care regulations such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) and Bill-C11 in Canada, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) in the U.S., and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
IT professionals will have to demonstrate to management that it’s often more advantageous to opt for cloud-based solutions versus an on-premises solution, since large cloud service providers have more sophisticated capabilities to ensure up-to-date and rigorous security and compliance measures on their cloud services compared to the local capabilities of healthcare organizations.
Cloud is complex: There are public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Choosing the right mix of cloud is often a challenge for healthcare organizations with small IT teams and limited access to the skills, training and subject matter expertise to develop, provision and manage cloud-based services and applications. This is where third-party consultants and cloud service organizations can help, by providing access to skilled resources with deep implementation experience.
Preparing for cloud adoption
IT professionals should conduct proper due diligence for any proposed cloud solution before implementation, such as ensuring up-to-date compliance with industry regulations. They should also consider third-party supplier risks from contracted partners of cloud service providers who may have less sophisticated security and compliance measures.
As part of this process, they should map out contingency, business continuity and disaster recovery plans, as well as strengthen their cybersecurity and IT risk management capabilities. This can be done through regular risk assessments and by planning for worst-case scenarios to mitigate security breaches or non-compliance issues.
Healthcare organizations can further prepare for cloud adoption by devising a cloud-conscious technology roadmap and architecture to ensure its cloud adoption is in line with the organization’s overall IT strategy. This roadmap should include a plan for current state and gap analysis, multi-cloud governance and management processes, change management processes and the evolution of resource capabilities and training.
A framework for success
Moving forward, Canadian healthcare organizations will need to consider how they can sustain and scale digital services post-pandemic, while dealing with system-wide financial strain. The idea is to create a more patient-centred, connected health system that benefits patients and care providers. To successfully adapt to this digital world, organizations should start now to prepare for a cloud-enabled future of care.