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Healthcare Public Cloud Answers Data Storage Demands

Organizations are still hesitant to realize the benefits of the healthcare public cloud for data storage because of security concerns as they collect more data.

healthcare public cloud

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations are facing healthcare data storage shortages as the amount of electronic medical data increases and is used in patient care. The healthcare public cloud can be a viable option to cut back on costs and provide much needed scalability.

The problem with data storage is that it becomes overwhelmed with new medical instruments being introduced into the IT infrastructure, Wasabi CEO David Friend explained to HITInfrastructure.com. The size of data files such as medical images can also be a problem, he added.

“Healthcare generates a huge amount of data,” said Friend. “Just like cell phone cameras have gone from one megapixel to 12 megapixels, everything in medical imaging is creating enormous amounts of data. The amount of genomics data is doubling every seven months, so the projections are that it’s going to take up more storage than exists in the world today five years from now.”

Despite the need for flexible cloud storage, cloud still isn’t as prominent in the healthcare industry as it should be. CIOs generally don’t see a significant economic advantage to cloud and they also have privacy and security concerns, according to Friend.

“Hospitals have built up big in-house IT infrastructures over the years, and it’s just going to be hard for them to let that go and move to the cloud because that’s what they’re used to doing,” he explained. “There has to be a big economic incentive in order to push cloud along.”

READ MORE: Healthcare Data Storage Options: On-Premise, Cloud and Hybrid Data Storage

The cloud makes it easier for IT administrators because they don’t have to have the skills to maintain and monitor their cloud in-house. But that may not be enough of an incentive for organizations to change the way they operate their IT infrastructure. This is why storage is a good place for organizations to start their cloud journey.

“Storage is just storage,” Friend stated. “Where you store the data, whether you store it in a remote location or whether it goes up to some public cloud isn’t that important. What’s really important to hospitals is all the applications and computing and all the things that go along with it. We’re picking off kind of the most tedious, boring, least strategic part of the whole equation.”

Cloud can significantly cut back on coasts, but migrating data to the cloud can be another road block slowing down adoption in healthcare.

“With cloud storage, you can significantly decrease cost without changing much about what you’re doing,” Friend explained. “That seems to be reasonably acceptable. But entities are going to be slow moving because they have the issue of migrating enormous amounts of existing data, which they may not have time to do. It takes some effort.”

Once organizations decide on the cloud for data storage, they are faced with determining if they want to use the public or private cloud.

READ MORE: How Healthcare Providers Can Benefit from Cloud Data Migration

“If an organization wants a private cloud, which is inside its own separate datacenter and its data is not being intermingled with other data from other customers, it’s going to be more expensive,” said Friend. “There may be good reasons to deploy a private cloud, but major public cloud service providers, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have really never had a problem with the public cloud in terms of hackers breaking in and stealing data or anything of that nature.”

Friend argues that the public cloud is potentially a safer option for storing healthcare data than the private cloud because of vendor protection.

“In the public cloud, everything is encrypted at rest,” he explained. “Even if somebody does break in, there isn’t much for them to steal. The only time anybody makes off with any useful information is when the customer has been careless with his passwords, which will happen with anything. Organizations running in-house IT departments can’t afford to have the specialists who can ensure that these kinds of systems are really bulletproof. “

On-premises private cloud solutions can also put a bigger target on a healthcare organization’s back. This is because hackers may be more likely to target an entity’s smaller private cloud than a large public cloud provider, such as AWS or Microsoft.

“For example, Homeland Security has mountains of data that they have to have behind their own firewall for regulatory reasons. It makes sense for them to have a private cloud,” Friend explained. “But for a hospital you’d have to be a very big hospital to warrant having exclusively private cloud for storage. It’s more psychological than real.”

READ MORE: Pros and Cons of On-Premises, Cloud Hosted Healthcare Apps

If a major public cloud service provider suffered a truly damaging data breach, its reputation would be damaged, and it would lose valuable customers. This makes it a high priority for many vendors to make sure customer data is as secure as possible.

“If you search data loss from Amazon or data loss from Google you’re not going to find much,” said Friend. “But if you search data breaches for any sort of private datacenter, like a hospital or a bank, many of them have had incidents of intrusion, data destruction, and malware.”

Organizations embracing the cloud for healthcare data storage will also have an easier time taking advantage of other cloud-based tools in the future.

“There are specialized applications in radiology, ophthalmology, and so-forth, and some of those tools are already cloud based,” said Friend. “A lot of the vendors of medical software, including some of the EHR vendors, are starting to move to the cloud and starting to move to a subscription kind of pricing model.”

However, this adoption is relatively slow because the clinicians using the tools aren’t always willing to change the way they do things. Beginning with storage is key because organizations can take advantage of the cloud without disrupting clinician workflow.

“Storage is a different matter,” Friend stated. “Doctors have absolutely no idea where that x-ray image is stored or where that MRI is stored, and they don’t care. Hospitals get to save money, but they don’t have to deal with the organizational resistance that comes about when you’re trying to migrate applications to the cloud, which almost inevitably changes the way things work.”

Organizations considering cloud adoption should consider beginning at the most basic level with storage as well as explore public cloud options. Cutting back on costs and building a solid cloud foundation to deploy future cloud-based tools makes public cloud a viable option for healthcare organizations.


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