From The Editor | September 25, 2013

Do Health Providers Finally Trust The Cloud?

ken congdon

By Ken Congdon

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In healthcare, the word “cloud” has historically been taboo. CIOs thought moving to the cloud meant giving up control of the hospital’s health data, thereby sacrificing security. However, new research seems to indicate that attitudes surrounding cloud technologies are beginning to change among healthcare providers. The first indication of this shift came in a KLAS study released in March titled, Cloud Computing Perception 2013: The Hybrid Cloud In Healthcare. In this study, cloud users gave cloud technology an average satisfaction score of 4.5 out of 5 on security. The study also revealed that cloud users are generally excited about the promise of the technology and continuing to move forward with cloud-based platforms.

Last week, another study emerged (this one conducted by Porter Research and sponsored by cloud computing vendor Covisint) that provides even more telling evidence that cloud technologies are gaining acceptance among healthcare executives. The study, titled Healthcare Industry Reaches Tipping Point: CIOs Now Demand The Cloud For Shared Savings And Interoperability, was based on in-depth interviews with 50 senior level executives from leading healthcare facilities. The research shows that 58% of respondents are highly confident in using cloud computing to access information from disparate locations. Only 20% of respondents aren’t confident in cloud-based platforms. This data seems to suggest a clear shift in the mindset of C-level executives in healthcare, and Covisint CMO Dr. John Haughton has a theory as to what’s driving this sea change.

“The CIO has always been in charge of ensuring the integrity of the hospital’s health data,” he says. “Historically, that meant implementing walled-off systems to shield this data from the outside world. Having islands of data used to be advantageous. However, success in healthcare now demands information to be fluid and portable. Data needs to flow seamlessly to forge ACO partnerships and respond to the changes imposed by healthcare reform. This data exchange is difficult to pull off in a walled-off environment. As such, CIOs are now embracing the cloud as a means to facilitate the exchange of health information in a safe manner.”  


While this recent research definitely indicates changing perceptions on cloud computing, I question how much of the confidence in cloud technologies reported by healthcare executives is real and how much is incidental. In other words, industry drivers such as Meaningful Use and healthcare reform have placed a premium on health information exchange. Cloud-based platforms are currently the quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to meet these demands within the established deadlines. Are CIOs really confident in cloud technologies, or are they simply using the technology out of necessity?  If data exchange was as straightforward in a client/server environment as it is in a cloud environment, would CIOs still opt for cloud computing? I’m not so sure. But, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Regardless of why healthcare providers are moving to the cloud, they’re using the technology on a larger scale. And, as a result, they’re becoming more comfortable with cloud-based platforms.

That being said, cloud computing still has a long way to go before it is universally accepted in healthcare circles. For example, while cloud users in the KLAS study were confident in the technology from a security standpoint, 66% of non-cloud users still ranked security as the primary concern preventing them from adopting cloud-based solutions.

According to the folks at Covisint, it’s going to take TRUST (an acronym created by Covisint) for more healthcare providers to migrate to the cloud. TRUST stands for the following:

T = Technical competency

R = Reliable partnerships (i.e. EHR and HIS vendors need to work together in a meaningful way)

U = Usability and accessibility

S = Scalability for future needs and organizational growth

T = Transformative power (i.e. does the technology transform your business?)

I also believe more healthcare providers will begin to accept the cloud as more and more of their peers begin demonstrating marked success using cloud-based solutions. Once the market sees more proof that moving to the cloud won’t result in data loss or security breaches, they will be more willing to dip their toes in the water.