Health Tech

Why 2 top health systems chose AWS as their cloud vendor

Dr. Shafiq Rab and John Kravitz, executives at Tufts Medicine and Geisinger, said AWS will offer them better connectivity speed and business continuity than other cloud vendors.

Healthcare has historically lagged behind other industries when it comes to technology modernization, but some of the country’s biggest health systems are finally making the move to the cloud. As tech giants compete to be healthcare’s top cloud vendor, it’s essential that hospital executives reviewing those technologies consider their organization’s unique needs to find which company is best equipped to meet those requirements. 

For Tufts Medicine and Geisinger, Amazon Web Services beat out the competition. The health systems say AWS will offer them better connectivity speed and business continuity than other cloud vendors.

On May 24, Tufts Medicine announced it had worked with AWS to move its entire digital healthcare ecosystem, including its Epic EHR, to the cloud. The Boston-based health system moved more than 3 million health accounts into its EHR in 71 hours — a task that would have taken about 200 days if it had been using on-premise servers. The health system also migrated 40 disparate applications to the cloud and has a goal to transition 300 applications once the cloud migration is complete.

“Ultimately, this migration needs to be scalable and repeatable so that all clinical and business applications can be in one place,” said Dr. Shafiq Rab, Tufts Medicine’s chief digital officer and CIO.

After reviewing cloud vendors’ capabilities and track records with customers, Tufts Medicine found AWS was the top contender in terms of connectivity speed, geo redundant-storage and input/output operations per second. Geo-redundancy requires placing physical servers in different geographical data centers in order to protect against catastrophic events that could be man-made or natural. By placing physical infrastructure in different locations, AWS allows the network to load balance traffic for optimal performance.

Amazon S3, AWS’ storage service, offers two types of geo-redundancy options. The first involves S3 availability zones for which data can be replicated automatically, even though they’re geographically distant from each other.  AWS also offers a cross-region replication feature, which automatically replicates data across multiple AWS regions. 

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Tufts Medicine wanted a vendor with a connectivity speed of less than three milliseconds, according to Dr. Rab, and AWS provides that. The health system determined that AWS’ cloud has a stellar storage system performance based on its drive speed and ability to handle different workloads.

With the proliferation of cyberattacks on healthcare organizations, fast connectivity and the ability to quickly regain operational control is a top priority for both Tufts Medicine and Geisinger.

Geisinger, based in Danville, Pa., issued a request for proposal with the three major public cloud providers: Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and AWS. After “a lot of deep discussions and a lot of meetings with each of those providers,” the health system chose AWS because it had proven its ability to provide successful cloud hosting for a variety of industries. Gesinger and AWS’ announced their contract on May 24.

When assessing AWS, Geisinger saw that the company had migrated some smaller health systems to the cloud and has a “great track record” for system availability, according to John Kravitz, the system’s CIO. System availability refers to consumers and employees’ ability to reach applications from anywhere at any time as long as they have a device with an internet connection.

Kravitz said Geisinger felt most comfortable using AWS as its cloud host because the company has multiple regions throughout the country and demonstrated its ability to quickly recover systems.

“The system availability, business continuity and recoverability of systems was considered first and foremost, especially in this era. We’re dealing with cyberattacks daily from all different countries, all different locations, all different targets,” Kravitz said.

So far in 2022, more than 10.7 million patients’ records have been breached, according to HHS’ data breach reporting portal. Having a cloud system that can quickly bounce back from cyberattacks is a priority for hospital executives, especially for those who pride themselves on being top innovators.

Both Kravitz and Dr. Rab consider their systems to be leaders in healthcare innovation, and they have ambitious goals for their AWS cloud deals. Geisinger expects to move about 90 percent of its application stack to the cloud, which will amount to about 900 applications when all is said and done, according to Kravitz.

Tufts Medicine is planning to integrate its financial data and enterprise resource planning data into the cloud so it can eventually live in one place. The health system also plans to share its cloud strategy with other healthcare providers, as Dr. Rab believes cloud migration is desperately needed in healthcare. He said he felt this way when attending the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C. in May. As a keynote speaker at the meeting, Dr. Rab shared how Tufts Medicine launched its digital healthcare environment on the cloud and how it plans to continue collaborating with AWS to make patient care more accessible.

“I was at the AWS meeting and people were clapping and congratulating me,” he said. “But these are fundamental basic things, and everybody should be doing it. We need a lot of collaboration and collective work to modernize healthcare’s technology.”

Photo: Flickr, Cerillion Skyline