Although the notion of storing data in the cloud isn’t exactly a new one, healthcare leaders have understandably been hesitant to take the leap.
But as the cost of hosting data continues to grow — particularly as health systems develop partnerships and affiliations — cloud computing is becoming a more attractive option, according to Deanna Wise, EVP and CIO of Dignity Health. During a presentation at HIMSS, she and Chris Bowen, founder of Chief Privacy and Security Officer at ClearData, spoke to a packed room about the benefits of going to the cloud, the barriers that still exist, and some of the key lessons they both have learned.
They set the stage by giving some background on who is leveraging cloud technology and why, using data from a recent survey by ClearData and HIMSS Analytics. It found that 76 percent of respondents are in the process of moving new or existing workflows the cloud, and 84 percent presently use some type of service (although it might be shadow IT in some cases, Bowen pointed out).
The most common uses? Application hosting and management, disaster recovery/backup, primary data storage, archive storage, and clinical application hosting, the survey found, with respondents citing infrastructure agility and improved performance and reliability as key benefits.
Even in light of this, resistance remains, according to Wise, who encountered it at Dignity Health, a 39-hospital system based in San Francisco. “As CIOs, we’re used to remotely hosting applications, but this is new, and it’s different.” But for Dignity, which is completing a massive Cerner implementation, the time was ripe for a solution that help present data to clinicians in a more effective and economical way.
Before that could happen, they had to find the right vendor partner.
“This is a new relationship to consider — how do I go down that road with someone, and what will it look like? Are they going to understand the things that are most important to us, which are compliance and patient care?” Wise said, pointing out that a vendor partnership should be like a marriage, where both parties are willing and able to work through any challenge. “As we all know, implementations are going to have issues. We need to be true partners.”
Although they found that partner in ClearData, that was merely one component of the journey. During the discussion, Wise and Bowen outlined some of the most important takeaways for CIOs and other leaders who are considering a move to the cloud.
- Build a solid team. Before any initiative, it’s critical to “surround yourself with very talented people and enabled them to do great things,” noted Wise.
- Clearly state your terms. It’s imperative that leaders specify their needs upfront. In Dignity’s case, it was essential that ClearData sign their business associate agreement, and that if certain expectations weren’t met, the health system would be compensated.
- Start small. Going to the cloud is a major change, and for some organizations, the best strategy is to dip a toe in the water by starting with a pilot project. Once the results have been validated, it can be expanded at an appropriate rate. “You want to make sure it scales across the organization before making a huge investment,” said Wise.
- Stay neutral. One of the key advantages of cloud computing, especially for organizations that are exploring joint ventures, is that it creates a common ground where one party doesn’t own the other’s data.
- Be visible. Making the sure the system works as efficiently as possible is always the CIO’s goal, but when there are hiccups, it’s critical to sit down with other leaders and clinicians and explain what happened, and what’s being done to remedy it. “It’s no different from any other initiative. Things aren’t going to go perfectly,” noted Wise. “CIOs need to be able to communicate that to clinicians,” she said.
- Be patient. As with any change, there’s going to be an adjustment period. “It’s about changing people and processes, and finding solid technology that works,” she said.
- Don’t lose site of the ultimate goal. “It all comes down to patient care, and if we’re not successful bringing that environment to our patients and our clinicians, then we aren’t successful,” Wise stated.
- Have reliable support. This is where having a solid vendor partnership comes into play, noted Bowen, adding that when there is an issue, CIOs need to have someone they can contact directly and count on to resolve the issue quickly.
And finally, it’s critical that leaders make sure they’re doing what’s best for their organization. “It really is about building relationships, aligning with the business, and doing the most effective things for quality care at the best price,” said Wise. “I don’t think there’s that silver bullet of using one vendor, or making the decision that it’s all going to be in the cloud or it’s all going to be on premise. I think it’s a balance depending on what are we trying to accomplish and how.”