Why A Cloudy Forecast Is Good For Healthcare

Cloud services are forcing a reassessment of conservative habits.

Bill Crounse, Contributor

November 22, 2013

4 Min Read

Yes, the cloud is great, but health organizations will be slow to adopt it -- that’s what I told my colleagues when we first started talking about cloud services. Thirty-five years in the healthcare industry has taught me that it’s typically quite conservative when it comes to new technology.

I’m pleased to say I was wrong. I’m seeing health organizations move to the cloud much faster than I expected.

Why? In today’s quest for higher quality, better access, and lower costs, health systems need to examine every possible way to achieve greater efficiency. The cloud has matured at just the right time in history to help them do this. And I’m seeing even more widespread adoption now that there are cloud solutions available that address the security and compliance requirements that health organizations must adhere to. For example, Microsoft offers a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Business Associate Agreement (BAA) for its cloud services.

Doing new with less
Let’s face it. The business of healthcare is caring for patients -- not running datacenters. Driven by the economic realities of health reform, organizations want to get out from under the burden of what I call “commodity workflows” in healthcare IT. By that, I mean things like email, storage, telephony, and messaging, which is why these have been some of the first functions that health organizations have moved to the cloud.

By offloading at least some of their IT infrastructure, health organizations are reducing IT real estate and capital expenditures. And just as important, the automatic maintenance that cloud services provide, free up IT staff to focus more on initiatives that directly affect a health organization’s core competency: patient care.

These were some of the benefits that Giulio Siccardi, the CIO of Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome, told me his organization experienced after moving its email to the cloud. Not only are clinicians much happier with the cloud-based email and collaboration tools that they can access anywhere, anytime, than they had been with the previous, less user-friendly on-premises solution, the hospital was able to significantly reduce IT costs and maintenance. No longer encumbered with daily email upkeep, the IT department saved approximately 100 hours per month. What’s more, the new solution cost 60 percent less than the old one -- savings that the hospital planned to invest in research.

And I recently spoke with the CTO of a very large, multi-hospital system based in the Asia Pacific region, who told me that by moving all of his healthcare system’s operations to the cloud, he is saving more than 80 percent of what he’d been spending on maintaining on-premises IT services. Another example: Advocate Healthcare, the largest healthcare provider in Illinois, is realizing a cost avoidance of $4 million by moving its email services to the cloud.

With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that health organizations are moving to the cloud in droves. In today’s constrained economic environment, we often talk about doing more with less. But that can only get you so far. It’s about doing more with new, which is exactly what the cloud offers.

Connecting people and information
Another reason I’m seeing health organizations surge to the cloud is because it makes it easier to connect people and data across infrastructural boundaries and therefore the entire care continuum. This is more important than ever with the movement toward a patient-centered, accountable care model.

Boulder County, Colo., for example, is using a collaborative social services tool on a cloud-based platform to improve case management. The multiple divisions in the county government that provide programs are no longer data silos, but rather share participant data. As a result, they have reduced wait time for services from weeks to hours, increased program efficiency, and enhanced coordination across agencies.

It’s not just big health organizations and governments that are seeing impressive results with the cloud. Mihills Webb Medical, a five-physician family practice in Texas, has estimated that by using cloud-based communication and collaboration tools it has increased productivity so much that it’s saving the equivalent of 30 days of medical assistant time each month. Consequently, the team is able to see more patients, which has significantly increased the practice’s revenue.

I’m glad to join the ranks of weather forecasters in being wrong. The forecast for the healthcare industry is much “cloudier” than I first thought. But the reasons are clear. The cloud offers compelling and innovative ways for health organizations to continue to strive toward the triple aim of improving care quality, increasing access, and containing costs.

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