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Understanding Healthcare Cloud Migration for Cost Benefits

Planning a healthcare cloud environment based on an organizations unique needs and resources is vital to achieving full cost benefits and advantages of the cloud.

healthcare cloud

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Using the healthcare cloud to organize data and cut back on overall costs can help organization adapt and prepare for the future.

Healthcare organizations are constantly collecting structured and unstructured data from many different sources. Not only does data collection prove challenging to provider organizations, but the ability to make data actionable also serves to justify storage costs.

Meaningfully using the collected data to positively impact an organization as a business as well as better treat patients is the main goal. Determining how to bring data from different sources together and be able to view that data it where organizations face the most challenges, according to Clairvoyant CEO Chandra Ambadipudi.

The focus is primarily on structured data as well as semi-structured and unstructured data. Images such as financial PDFs, medical images, open notes files, and monitoring device data are all collected and are often put in the same place. These files and images are difficult to interface. Migrating data to the cloud is the first step to gaining control over different kinds of file types and making them actionable.

“How do you bring different kinds of data into a data system, look what's inside it, and use that data in context with all the other structural data you're collecting?” Ambadipudi told HITInfrastructure.com. “Whether it is health records, insurance details, or financial applications, we are talking a lot about unstructured and semi-structured data coming into play along with the highly structured data that organizations traditionally deal with.”

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

Organizations are charged with creating a data lake comprising the various data types produced by a health system in one place that in turn becomes a source of meaningful insight.

“If you peel back the covers, healthcare infrastructure is an archaic system made up of basic systems coming together and forming this fragile healthcare infrastructure backend,” Ambadipudi explained. “If you look at data system infrastructure it is considered dated compared to where other industries have moved onto.”

CIOs don’t want their infrastructure to remain in the past, but apprehension to embracing new technology in healthcare persists unlike in other industries. Organizations want to make their data actionable, but data privacy and security pose unique challenges in healthcare. If a new system can’t be proven and pitched as more secure than the legacy system currently in use, executives may not see it as a sound or smart investment.

Migrating to the cloud to embrace services that will help organizations reorganize their data systems to make health data more accessible is a challenge that factors into why cloud adoption is slower in healthcare.

In the past, cloud was believed to not be secure, but today it is not only secure but also a cost-effective way for organizations to take advantage of server hardware and tools too expensive to own. These tools are made available in the data center that is owned and operated by the cloud service provider.

READ MORE: Top 10 Cloud Data Storage Companies

The cloud is much different than the systems and services healthcare IT administrators are used to deploying in their legacy infrastructure environments. Healthcare organizations should start with a strong understanding of the skills and processes involved before and after the migration occurs, including management and maintenance requirements.

“The first and foremost data challenge you always see is most organizations don't focus,” Ambadpudi observed. “Why are you migrating cloud? Is this your backup server? Is this your high availability strategy? What are you trying to achieve by migrating cloud?”

“Sometimes they are shortsighted. They take one particular approach,” he continued. “They want the cloud for a particular reason, but that means that they're either missing on a slightly broader strategy of moving to cloud, or they’re a little shortsighted and actually taking a risk here.”

When moving to the cloud, organizations need to understand the problem they’re trying to solve and how migrating to the cloud to the cloud will provide a solution. Determining which data to move to the cloud is an important early step as well as considering if all data is going to be hosted by the same cloud service provider. Certain data carries with it different security and accessibility requirements. As a result, keeping some data on-premises may be a good option.

Organizations need to encrypt their data before migrating it as well. Encryption that was sufficient for on-premises data may not be good enough for data in transit to the cloud.

READ MORE: 5 Essential Steps for Healthcare Cloud Data Migration

“There are different methods to encryption, but always make sure that you are doing your best to secure the data within your parameters before you get to the cloud,” Ambadpudi advised. “Your strategy needs to slightly change because technically there aren’t any limitations on procurement. Once you're in cloud you can get the CPU you want, the memory you want, and the disk space you want.”

“However, that also leaves a lot of backtrack and misuse in the cost optimization,” he continued. “If there’s no process in place, organizations tend to overuse the cloud. This can cause organizations to lose the cost benefit of the cloud. Organizations can become at ease with the cloud and how they’re accessing data along the new disk space and CPU resources. However, they can’t lose focus on processes and overall data cloud use.”

The cost benefit of the cloud is one of the biggest advantages of moving to the environment. Organizations that do not have a sound plan may not get the cost benefit they expect from the cloud.

“Considering the long-term storage and long-term computing access and how that will compare with what you have in your data center is significant,” said Ambadpudi. “Typically, long-term costs are less compared to the data center.”

Many organizations fail to consider the short-term costs of migration and the short term costs of staff with experience in cloud data migration or training staff on a new system. This misstep often leads organizations to look for assistance from a vendor for the migration which can be costly, but necessary.

“Cloud providers are consulting shops who are selling cloud services,” Ambadpudi stated. They may only talk about the long-term cost savings. Short-term cost can sometimes come as quite a surprise when the project gets started.”

Organizing a cloud project and making sure all steps are covered and plans are set in motion is critical to a successful migration and eventual utilization of the cloud. Ambadpudi emphasizes that checks and balances in the migration process is needed whether an organization wants to move data to the cloud or deploy a new technology.

“As organizations take advantage of data to improve their business, very important to understand how it’s going to be done and what kind of risk is involved by taking newer technology and newer approaches into consideration,” Ambadpudi concluded. “Every organization is creating different data so planning with unique needs in mind is key to successful migration.”

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