Healthcare providers are increasingly recognizing that the cloud empowers them to reduce costs, enhance agility, and improve insights. And many now are investing more heavily and expanding their cloud initiatives.
By 2020, 80% of healthcare data will "pass through the cloud at some point in its lifetime, as providers seek to leverage cloud-based technologies and infrastructure for data collection, aggregation, analytics and decision-making," according to IDC Health Insights. More exciting for IT professionals, that same year the US healthcare cloud market will reach $3.54 billion, compared with $903.1 million in 2013, Frost & Sullivan predicted.
"Cloud storage and mobile in healthcare will explode and start becoming the norm rather than seen as the "innovators" choice," Missy Krasner, managing director of healthcare and life sciences at Box, told InformationWeek last month.
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In addition, cloud technology helps healthcare organizations meet regulatory infrastructure mandates, reduce costs, address security and compliance issues such as HIPAA and HITECH, and improve business processes that drain productivity and resources. In addition, some organizations, like their counterparts in other vertical markets, are finding that the cloud is a key competitive differentiator.
That's certainly true at IMS Health, a provider of healthcare information and technology solutions, which recently opted to host its software-as-a-service (SaaS) commercial applications on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Craig Fiebig, vice president of product marketing at IMS Health, told us in an interview that, by using AWS, his firm's life science customers can deploy and scale its Nexxus Commercial Application suite and IMS One cloud much faster across the globe.
The company is moving away from its in-house Microsoft Azure system and will use Amazon's Redshift data warehouse to process raw transactional systems. The cloud's speed and agility will help IMS Health's clients speedily monitor and adjust their pharmaceutical sales and marketing initiatives, Fiebig said.
"If sales of a particular medication had gone up in a ZIP code, and then in your social media application you noticed lots of people saying, 'I took this medication and I felt so good, so much quicker,' that social media app should talk to your marketing app quickly, and it should talk to your sales tool," he said. Likewise, life science companies must monitor for side effects.
Jay Yellott, vice president of IT at the not-for-profit Baylor, Scott & White Health -- which has 43 hospitals, 6,000 physicians, and 34,000 employees -- said it is also expanding cloud use beyond its 1,000-strong IT department.
The organization, which has a philosophy of creating repeatable services using cloud technologies, first tapped ServiceNow to resolve some specific service-management issues, Yellott said. But the cloud-based solution also appealed to other departments, such as quality control and human resources. If IT could use ServiceNow to manage technology problems such as broken laptops and email changes, for example, why couldn't the VP of patient centeredness use the same tool to manage a patient's treatment plan? ServiceNow also offered the advantage of being more intuitive, responsive, and accessible than HR's old infrastructure.
"From growing up in the apps world, I don't want infrastructure if I don't have to have it, although in some cases I do need to own it," he said. On-premises systems are "probably going to cost more. It's probably going to cost more to maintain. And it's probably not going to be as reliable. From my perspective, the cloud is a convenience in any new service I want to deliver. There are other side benefits around capex and opex, and that's part of the conversation, too."
Even as the cloud gains traction across healthcare, an organization's transition into the technology isn't always seamless. "It wasn't easy for me. My Christmas was nearly wrecked," Yellott said. "Our compliance folks, the people who are responsible for keeping our hospital out of the paper," were worried. "It was a more difficult row to hoe than I'd have thought. We were the first cloud contract in our organization. But we weren't the last."
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