Cloud 101 For Medical Practices: Myths On Life Support

Adam Stern | Health IT Outcomes

Cloud migration involves placing data and applications off-premises and online, shifting the focus from locally-based technology to remote access and deployment. While some medical practices and clinics are likely to continue buying hardware, the pace of cloud migration continues to accelerate as more and more applications become cloud-ready.

What’s behind the decision to remain with an in-house solution or embrace cloud server hosting? A small to midsize medical practice reaches that fork in the road because it has pushed its local technology to the end of its useful life and now needs to do something about it.

When tinkering with technology — or more accurately, not tinkering with it yourself but entrusting others to handle the often-baffling mechanics — language is everything. Being able to distinguish fact from myth is a big down payment on peace of mind. In the first of this two-part introduction to the cloud, we’ll address (and debunk) some pervasive myths; in the next installment, we’ll explain some of the jargon that keeps users in, well, a fog about the cloud.

Myths, or misconceptions, are the status quo’s best friend. It’s difficult to move forward with business technology when some of the most basic assumptions about that technology are obsolete, misguided or simply unfounded. Here are four things your typical hardware salesperson would dearly like you to believe.

  1. Myth: the cloud poses security risks. The fact is your medical practice — that is, your data — is considerably safer in the cloud than tethered to equipment under someone’s desk. Any cloud provider worth its salt brings to the task a phalanx of time-tested tools, procedures, and technologies that ensure continuous uptime, regular backups, data redundancy, data encryption, anti-virus/anti-malware deployment, multiple firewalls, intrusion prevention, and round-the-clock monitoring. And that’s just for openers.
  2. Myth: cloud migration means changing your applications and your ways of doing business. Done right, cloud computing is holistic and transparent (you might even say invisible). A clinic or hospital’s entire compute environment can be placed in and thrive in the cloud, and employees can access applications and data wherever they are. Outwardly, virtually nothing has changed.
  3. Myth: cloud computing costs more than on-premises computing. Increasingly, the numbers favor the cloud, and numbers are just part of the equation. Indeed, the cloud has become something of a bargain. Because the cloud requires zero outlay for computer hardware and (typically) modest monthly fees for applications and maintenance — with such under-the-hood essentials as storage, backup, security, disaster recovery, round-the-clock support, etc. baked in — the economic argument is compelling. With depreciation cycles taken out of the equation compute horsepower truly is a bargain. It’s entirely possible for a small or midsize medical office to spend $10,000 a month and tap enough compute power to drive a 1,000-user organization — certainly more than most actually need but a comforting statement about economies of scale.
  4. Myth: the cloud makes HIPAA compliance more difficult. HIPAA compliance isn’t optional. And that often means achieving it is viewed as burdensome, a distraction from the core mission of patient care, especially for medical offices of modest size. Because cloud providers are literally wired for security (see myth number 1), migrating to the cloud turns out to be the surest route to painless HIPAA compliance. Indeed, cloud-based HIPAA hosting plans incorporate technologies that fully address today’s regulatory environment, starting with the mandatory HITECH audit, itself organized around privacy, security, and breach notification. While medical offices and clinics might be capable of doing various techy things on their own, most would prefer not to do the heavy lifting in-house. And who can blame them?

Even though myths die hard, the experience of cloud migration is proving to be its own best advocate.

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