In the healthcare sector, the storing and sharing of sensitive digitized patient data has become a significant undertaking and is a heavy burden on resources. Preparation for a complete conversion from paper medical records to electronic health records (EHR) by 2015 has independent practitioners and small healthcare entities making significant investments in equipment, hardware and software, and tech-savvy personnel.
Rather than focusing on the delivery of core patient care services, they must now worry about IT infrastructure issues, underlying network constraints and data center accessibility as well. This is problematic as very few medical offices or small health service organizations can afford to employ dedicated IT staff.
Recent modifications to the HIPAA Privacy, Security, Enforcement and Breach Rules have made it clearer that data center operators are to be classified as business associates under HIPAA. This means cloud-service providers are required by law to report and respond to data breaches and uphold their obligation to properly protect and secure patient info. These modifications are a game changer because they now assure covered entities such as doctor offices, hospitals, and health insurers that they can remain HIPAA compliant while adopting cloud technology.
Major Benefits of the Cloud for the Healthcare Sector
Security – Ironically, the biggest concern most healthcare entities have about taking to the cloud is one of its biggest strengths. Recent updates have made CSPs as responsible and liable for HIPAA compliance as the healthcare institutions that hire them. CSPs must ensure that data is encrypted, backed up, easily recoverable, and secured with permission-based access.
Costs – Reduced costs are an incentive for healthcare entities to take to the cloud. Costs are dramatically cut since the cloud moves everything into a virtual environment, eliminating the need for costly hardware, software, maintenance, data center space, and IT labor. Payas-you-use fees requiring little-to-no capital investment replace these often overwhelming up-front capital expenses.
Scalability – With the 2015 EHR conversion deadline nearing, and the fact that health service providers are generally required to maintain patient medical records for at least six years, it’s easy to anticipate that managing such a high volume of patient data will inevitably stress any on-site IT infrastructure. But the cloud presents a scalable alternative where additional server or storage capacity is available as needed.
Mobility - The cloud improves a physician’s ability to remotely access readily available patient information. This enables even the busiest physician to review a patient’s medical records or test results even after they leave the office.
Sharing – Cloud computing keeps physicians better connected to not just their patients but their colleagues as well. Patients will notice benefits to medical professionals being able to share patient information online – for example, referrals to specialists will be more timely, there will be less paperwork to fill out with each office visit, and no unnecessary repeat diagnostic tests.
Are You Ready for This Transition?
The transition to cloud computing is underway in the industry. For healthcare service providers, it is no longer a question of if they will transition to the cloud, but when they can start benefiting from its potential savings and all of its capabilities. Healthcare is a heavily regulated industry and cloud computing will continue to evolve to meet the industry’s growing security requirements and regulatory mandates.
Many legitimate CSPs familiar with the healthcare sector already have strict security protocols in place to comply with regulations and will not hesitate to sign a BAA when asked. It is best to choose a CSP cautiously. Avoid any CSP who refuses to sign a BAA and carefully evaluate even those who do to get a feel for their stability, level of service, and delivery on promises. Taking care of people - not your IT infrastructure - is your core service. Why not put the money being spent right now on hardware, software and equipment back into patient care while actually strengthening patient data integrity and security?