MedCity Influencers

Securing the Healthcare Cloud in 2024 with Cloud Managed Services

By partnering with a cloud managed service provider, one can overcome cloud staffing and security issues and better align internal resources with the things that make your business special, like developing new apps and features that enhance healthcare services and improve health outcomes for end users.

The healthcare industry experiences more data breaches than any other industry. A report from 2021 found that 79% of data breaches affect the healthcare industry alone.

Healthcare records are worth as much as 10X more than credit card records on the black market. They contain more sensitive information, like social security numbers, which hackers can use to steal identities and extort victims through activities like tax refund fraud or loan fraud.

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A hacker with hands on your health records has access to a wealth of information. From your kids’ names and birthdays to every address you’ve ever lived at, skilled threat actors know how to use this information to break into personal systems by guessing passwords and even bypassing security questions.

Healthcare is moving to the cloud

With 70% of health IT professionals reporting their organizations have adopted cloud computing solutions, and another 20% expressing their desire to migrate to the cloud in the next two years, it’s safe to say that cloud computing in healthcare is in full swing.

And for good reason. The cloud is enabling healthcare to solve long standing challenges, develop new solutions, and deploy preventative interventions that simply cannot be conceived of in any other computing environment.

Here are some of the top use cases for healthcare in the cloud.

  • Improving medical decisions

Only when medical practitioners have access to the full view of a patient’s records can the best medical decisions be made. A huge challenge in healthcare is that data are often locked up across disparate systems. These systems are often incompatible, storing data in varied formats and often proprietary formats unique to each vendor, creating data silos that disallow the sharing of information.

But with cloud computing, data are stored in a centralized location and made available to anyone with a network connection to the system through application programming interfaces (APIs), making data interoperability much easier. Cloud is open source and data are generally stored in common languages, plus customers own their data instead of the vendor owning it. And tools like Google Cloud Healthcare API can help create interoperability between existing systems and applications hosted in the cloud.

  • Large-scale data analytics

In the past, implementing and utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions was a privilege reserved for organizations with substantial financial resources. However, nowadays, thanks to cloud service providers (CSPs), these technologies have become accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Empowered by the capabilities of AI, healthcare organizations have the ability to address previously insurmountable challenges. With approximately 5% of patients responsible for nearly half of the medical expenses in the US, healthcare payers can use ML models to identify at-risk patients, which can trigger proactive interventions, like reminders for medical screenings and therapies, in order to improve the health of these individuals before they require emergency room care.

On the healthcare provider side, AI is being utilized to diagnose and treat ailments sooner, like recognizing breast cancer in early stages in CT scans, or identifying patients who are at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease in order to deploy treatments that slow the progression of the disease.

  • Reducing costs of medical record storage

Industries like financial services deal with primarily structured data (spreadsheets and tables), but healthcare generates an enormous amount of unstructured data, such as written notes, discharge summaries, consent forms, lab reports, and medical imaging data. Storing unstructured data requires much greater capacity, and incurs considerably higher costs.

To further complicate things, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires medical data to be stored for a minimum of seven years. Since the penalties for mismanaging this can be costly, many organizations simply don’t delete anything.

Storing historical data has traditionally posed a significant financial burden for hospitals. But now, by leveraging cloud services like Amazon S3 Deep Archive or Azure Archive Blog Storage, hospitals can store a terabyte of data for up to one dollar and one cent per month. Moreover, when hospital facilities space is freed-up from hardware storage, that space can be repurposed toward providing more healthcare services.

  • Increasing clinical efficiency

Microsoft and Epic recently announced the release of the Nuance® Dragon Ambient eXperience Express (DAX Express) solution for Epic electronic health records (EHR). Dax is a generative artificial intelligence (AI) solution that allows clinicians to draft clinical notes automatically using natural language processing. This empowers clinicians to streamline visits, spend less time on administrative tasks, be more present with the patient, and focus more on providing healthcare.

These are just some of the top use cases for healthcare in the cloud.

The healthcare cloud staffing problem

Healthcare is racing to the cloud, and no one can fault its speed or enthusiasm.

The problem is, there’s a cloud skills shortage, with 80% of companies reporting they lack sufficient skills to support cloud initiatives.

As hospital systems and public health departments look to support their cloud projects, they’re left thrusting hefty salary and benefit offerings into a sparse pool of highly sought-after talent, only to find they simply cannot outbid the Fortune 500s, social media giants, venture-funded startups, well-established solution providers, and the CSPs themselves. If a public sector organization does get its hands on a skilled up-and-comer, it risks losing them to the highest bidder soon.

When the market fails to provide the necessary skills, many organizations look to upskill current staff. But this comes with its own risks, as learning to effectively operationalize a robust tool such as cloud is not exactly something that can be achieved overnight.

Before going after the higher level AWS Solutions Architect certifications, for example, AWS recommends working with the AWS cloud for at least two years. As AWS CEO Andy Jassy says, there’s no compression algorithm for experience. Not to mention that while your employees are busy learning, they’re pulled away from their day-to-day duties, causing other initiatives to falter.

Without the right resources to finely tune and manage cloud environments, healthcare organizations are left dragging their feet on cloud projects. The ones that are bold enough to plow forward often see their costs spiral out of control due to suboptimal architectures and governance processes. This can cause larger problems with performance, security, and reliability.

The healthcare cloud security problem

Healthcare is racing to the cloud, whether the skills are there to support that or not. A mentor of mine used to say, “Figure it out.” And that’s exactly what healthcare is doing, or trying to do, right now.

Still, healthcare is vulnerable in the digital world, and without sufficient staff and skill to support cloud, the industry is ill-positioned to defend against sophisticated cloud threats.

A successful data breach is more than just a nightmare for communications teams. In healthcare, a cyber attack can have devastating consequences for patient outcomes.

A research report at Vanderbilt University suggests that mortality rates at hospitals increase after a data breach as a result of the drop in care quality. Data breaches are disruptive and the effects last for years. The investigations and litigation activities are a distraction for physicians and contribute to poorer patient outcomes due to delays in procedures and tests.

Ransomware attacks are one of the biggest threats. Last year 66% of healthcare organizations were targeted with ransomware. The most notable was the CommonSpirit Health incident launched last fall.

The best practice for defending against ransomware is to take the entire system down, including disaster recovery environments. This practice works well for stopping attacks, however, when clinicians can’t access medical records, their ability to provide care is severely hindered.

A ransomware attack on Campbell County Health in 2019 crippled the hospital system along with 20 nearby, connected clinics. The hospital’s emergency department was forced to transfer patients to the nearest hospital – 70 miles away – for eight hours. Test results were inaccessible and some surgeries were postponed. As a result, care quality suffered.

A similar situation happened at a hospital in Germany. A ransomware attack against Dusseldorf University Hospital left the system inaccessible. The hospital had to transfer patients to another facility 19 miles away. For one patient, this meant the end of her life.

And just last September, an infant death was linked to a ransomware attack at Springhill Medical Center in Alabama.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the USA. When hospitals can’t access medical records due to cyber attacks, they risk making life-threatening errors.

Secure the healthcare cloud with cloud managed services

For healthcare organizations pursuing a cloud-first strategy but struggling to hire and retain the right staff, a healthcare cloud managed service provider (MSP) can be a great option. A healthcare cloud MSP can help organizations both minimize the need for full time cloud staff and reduce business risk.

You wouldn’t build out an electrical plant on hospital premises and hire a team to manage it when you can just plug into a third-party provider and pay the monthly bill. So why would you manage IT internally?

You need IT to work well, indeed, in order for business to operate. But becoming a specialist in IT will not drive any business differentiation for you.

By partnering with an MSP, you can overcome cloud staffing and security issues. And, you can better align internal resources with the things that make your business special, like developing new apps and features that enhance healthcare services and improve health outcomes for end patients, like you and me.

Photo: turk_stock_photograph, Getty Images

I am the Founder and CEO of Cloudticity. I spend my days thinking about how to help the healthcare industry best leverage cloud technology to enable them to help people live healthier lives. I have spent the last 30 years navigating the technology industry. Prior to Cloudticity, I was brought in as the chief operating officer at ePrize; I turned around a failing company that was eventually sold for a fourfold return on the initial private equity investment. Before ePrize, I spent eight years at Microsoft, first as chief technology officer for the US central region, then running the global business unit that oversaw General Motors (Microsoft’s second-largest customer), growing that account from $20MM to over $100MM in three years. Prior to Microsoft, I spent nearly a decade in the technology consulting and startup industry. I hold all the core five AWS certifications.

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