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Healthcare CIOs Opt for the Cloud

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, October 18, 2012

"We still have all the issues of patient information, PHI that has to be protected, that can't be shared unless it's agreed to by the patient, so you still have all those restrictions,” Bengfort says. "We've done a lot of work with Salesforce in certifying their environments for our PHI, so we think we're in good shape around all those issues.”

UCSF's boldest cloud move has been to develop a way to back up its new Epic medical records to the cloud. "All the infrastructure is in place,” Bengfort says. "We're replicating our data right now. We're through two rounds of disaster testing, and we're at a point now where we want to test the ability to not just fail over to switch to a redundant system but to fail back to restore the system to its original state.”

The capability is so new that the providing cloud vendor, Dell Healthcare, has only implemented it with UCSF, Bengfort says. This implementation was key to UCSF as it prepared to achieve compliance with Meaningful Use 2011; the 600-bed main hospital was on track to attest last month.

Those medical records predating the Epic system also found a home in the cloud. Legacy Data Access takes records from old medical systems and converts them to a format that can be stored and retrieved in the cloud. "They will custom-develop a webpage so you can see it in the format you want to see it back, and then you just pay a subscription service for the access to that data,” Bengfort says.

Some healthcare organizations laid solid groundwork for the move to the cloud by investing substantially in application virtualization some years back. "We've always been a proponent of looking at how we use computing resources on the fly without having to add a lot more hardware infrastructure and software licensing to go along with that,” says Dee Cantrell, CIO of
Emory Healthcare.

With more than 1,830 licensed beds, more than 20 health centers, and 9,000 employees, Atlanta-based Emory has partnered with GNAX for the past five years to provide niche clinical systems.

"I've actually taken work off of my technical team, who was previously having to work on setting up servers and getting the hardware connected appropriately with the network and making sure all the security safeguards were in place, as well as loading the applications, and of course with that comes a lot of licensing expenses,” Cantrell says. "Now, instead of doing that, we actually have our technical resources really focused more on going out and working with our customers, looking at strategy for new solutions, and working on implementing new things.

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2 comments on "Healthcare CIOs Opt for the Cloud"


Erin Gilmer (10/24/2012 at 11:15 AM)
Really good article, well researched. I think there was short shrift given to HIPAA concerns in the cloud. Though some cloud providers are more versed in legal requirements and implications, most are not. Cloud providers are starting to realize they need to take this more seriously but still are often unwilling to complete business associate agreements. And there are real concerns with cloud services that all levels of health care providers and vendors are not aware of. I think though the benefits discussed here are important, more consideration must be given to the legal side. Because HIPAA compliant is more than just encryption and backup storage - most of the law is focused on policies and procedures, training, and responding to breaches. HITECH regulations are anticipated to change the landscapes of Business Associates, which include cloud providers. And the last issue not acknowledge are the international laws affecting cloud services. See this IBM developerWorks article for more information. https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/cl-hipaa/

Dan Haley (10/22/2012 at 10:59 AM)
Great article. The fact that so much health IT is stuck in a 1990s technology rut is one of the biggest challenges facing cloud-focused innovators like the company where I work, athenahealth. The example in this article of a health system spending buckets of money to retrofit a legacy software system (which already cost buckets of money) for cloud storage is a perfect example. That makes no sense - none - when technology like ours that was developed for the cloud is readily available. As the writer points out, government incentives for rapid adoption of EHRs in a way exacerbated the problem, as systems rushed to purchase anachronistic, software-based systems, thereby putting technologies that should be phasing out on a few more years of life support. Some related thoughts here: http://www.athenahealth.com/blog/2012/09/21/ehr-innovation-breaking-news-from-disparate-poles/