What’s cloud got to do with it?

KevinErdalWith the passage of the HITECH Act in 2009, the race to modernize the healthcare ecosystem began, and with it came the rapid adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and increasing digital capabilities. Over the past thirteen years, as technologies have grown and evolved, the variety, velocity, and volume of data have grown exponentially. By 2025, it’s estimated that 45 zettabytes of health data will have been created. Yet the ability to realize the full potential of the data continues to be stifled by the lack of modernized data architecture and applications. Along with the growing digitization of health data has come a torrent of cyberattacks. To combat these compounding problems and increase accessibility to vital data, healthcare systems can learn from other sectors, such as retail and banking, to lean on the investments made by big tech and modernize their infrastructure and platforms through holistic cloud transformation. Whether the cloud-first strategy calls for beginning with architecture, applications, or implementing a hybrid model, there is no wrong way to go. Any modernization is a stepping stone to true innovation.

Benefits of cloud modernization – more functionality today, lay the framework for tomorrow

Cloud adoption has significantly increased in recent years, and it’s estimated that more than 85% of organizations will move to a cloud-first strategy by 2025. Modernizing a health system’s data enterprise through cloud transformation prepares it for the future and benefits functions across the organization: operational, clinical, technical, security, innovation, and financial.

As organizations look to move their data infrastructure from on-premises to the cloud, the data storage and access capabilities become limitless, allowing for ingestion and usage of higher volumes and types of data, scaling with the organization and emergent technologies over time. This access provides teams the ability to put tools and data together in new, meaningful ways, continuously driving innovation in care delivery and impacting the patient and clinician experience.

Implementing cloud solutions opens a plethora of end-to-end native tools that empower enhanced monitoring, auditing, backup and redundancy, access, availability, and security. They easily integrate with third-party tools and platforms, allowing for advancements that deliver a more efficient and improved end-user experience.

Today’s data migration frameworks allow organizations to build pipelines while enabling automation and interconnection with artificial intelligence and machine learning, adding intelligence to the overall data blending and data science workflow. These powerful tools provide a continuously iterative framework for analytics and reporting and simplify overall data governance and operations.

As cyberthreats increase across every industry, including healthcare, proactive cybersecurity efforts are critical. Big tech has pledged multi-billion-dollar investments to shore up cybersecurity measures on their platforms and in the community. Cloud-native services govern security and compliance and integrate cohesively with enterprise tools and technologies, allowing organizations to obtain a robust security framework that is constantly innovated and advanced ahead of global cyberthreats. By implementing cloud solutions, best-in-class cybersecurity protection is achievable without the overhead of an internal team.

Along with this increase in functionality and capability comes surprisingly less financial culpability for the health system. With a serverless environment, there is no need to store and provide around-the-clock maintenance on costly on-premises infrastructure. With cloud, it’s pay per usage, not capacity; economies of scale are forever in the organization’s favor. With this level of dynamic and agile capability, long procurement cycles no longer stand in the way of innovation or bringing new tools to the patient and provider user communities.

Where to start a cloud transformation: architecture, applications, or both?

The most successful cloud transformations build on previous investments – there is no need to rip out the kitchen sink and start from scratch. Whether beginning with modernizing the data architecture or applications, there is no wrong way to start. Assess the organization and make strategic decisions based on the organization’s existing capabilities. Use a tested and reputable framework to transition from on-premises to the cloud. Adopt a strong organizational change management approach to empower internal resources with the knowledge and skills needed to extract its full capabilities.

If beginning with data architecture, leverage the work and investments that big tech has already put into pre-existing platforms, saving time, money, and energy. Utilize industry best practices and proven frameworks to ensure a smooth cloud implementation that sets the organization up for long-term success. By leveraging services designed around core healthcare standards, such as FHIR or DICOM, developers can expedite the data ingestion process and instead turn their focus to development efforts to gain meaningful data analysis, garnering faster and more efficient problem solving. Invest in ongoing internal talent development and training to get the most out of the organization’s cloud platform.

If beginning with applications, evaluate existing applications and their lifecycles for the best cloud migration strategy. There is no need to transition them all at once; build the transformation strategy based on what will be most advantageous to the organization’s intermediate-term needs, factoring in cost, time, and the impact on end users.

Though either one of these approaches can be successful, a hybrid strategy that incorporates both a platform and application model is the most highly desired approach for a total cloud transformation that improves the user experience, enhances security and compliance, and future proofs the organization in a cost-effective manner.

Cloud is a multi-pronged approach to data accessibility

Total cloud transformation doesn’t happen overnight but should be part of a multi-year strategic modernization plan. Though technology is the enabler, start with the future state; take a comprehensive approach that fits the organization’s current needs and capabilities while future proofing the digital infrastructure. Leverage existing big tech and clinical partnerships, bringing the best of both worlds together.

For further success, implement a continuous improvement mindset. Build a feedback loop into the process to intake input from across the organization, making incremental changes and adjusting over time as needed to create a right-sized solution. Invest in ongoing training and certification programs for internal teams to stay up to date with evolving technologies. Empower experts within the organization to use the new tools to innovate clinical and operational processes in ways that improve outcomes and efficiencies. Just like any new thing, inherent risks exist, but with proper strategic planning and deployment of proven frameworks, a successful cloud transformation will lead to enterprise modernization, a better end-user experience, and improved patient outcomes.

Topics: featured, digital health, cloud

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