As the healthcare industry becomes more connected, executives are increasingly looking for ways to digitally transform and provide next-level, life-saving care to patients. But it comes at a cost — and it’s not just monetary. The spiraling complexity of hospital networks is becoming a massive problem for health IT staff, and it’s inhibiting hospitals’ ability to advance. Brought on by years of network technologies and applications being layered onto the existing hospital infrastructure, healthcare organizations are now grappling with difficult maintenance, data and information silos, and security vulnerabilities.
It may be easy to focus on the flashier, patient-facing devices, or surgical robots when talking about health technology, but the network is the central nervous system of the entire hospital. Its performance and reliability are crucial to ensuring health practitioners can deliver excellent, consistent patient care around the clock. Patient electronic records, medical devices, and guest/staff Wi-Fi are all reliant on the network to function properly. If health IT teams are spending all their time managing and troubleshooting the network, it takes away time allocated to strategic initiatives that really matter and shift focus away from improving patient outcomes.
The key is establishing a network that is simple to manage yet scalable to accommodate future-looking initiatives and technology. Cloud is the solution.
One of the greatest benefits of the cloud is the ability to simplify the management of the infrastructure for hospital IT staff. From managing patient information and clinical software to ordering and receiving test results, hospital IT staff have a slew of priorities to tend to 24/7/365, not to mention working with limited budgets and personnel. Further, the healthcare workforce is becoming increasingly mobile and disbursed. 56 percent of healthcare organizations have a network that supports 11 to 100 buildings with many of their providers working in multiple hospitals and/or remote locations. And, hospitals are increasingly looking to analyze so much collected data across so many devices that on-premises applications and information systems are no longer a viable or scalable option.
The ability to onboard new locations and clinics in a quick and painless manner is a key requirement. Cloud-managed solutions work well for this specific use case, giving IT teams the ability to easily centralize and manage their network infrastructure in locations without any IT support. Cloud adoption also enables simple, flexible, more reliable management that makes the lives of IT staff easier and allows them to deliver better service to patients. All the complicated architecture and design work teams had to sweat through previously is no longer necessary.
But it’s not just easier management — a cloud-focused approach also boosts security. Recent Accenture research indicates that 60 percent of healthcare CIOs recognize the security benefits of the public cloud, and 66 percent are in the process of shifting to a cloud services model. One may think that encouraging simplicity in your network infrastructure would have the unintended consequence of reducing security, but really, it’s the opposite. The simpler you can make the network solution using the cloud, the better you are able to provide adequate security at scale.
Additionally, cloud management offers a more centralized view of the entire network. This is critical, as healthcare organizations deal with thousands of connected devices on their network, not to mention the flood of resulting data traffic. Furthermore, many next-generation network security solutions are leveraging Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning (AI/ ML) technology to faster detect and remediate against threats. Since the use of AI and ML requires a huge data pool to learn from, as well as significant computing resources, it is best suited for public cloud implementations. In fact, much of the innovation that is occurring in networking and security is via the public cloud.
Migrating to the cloud also helps hospitals scale for the future. The cloud offers the elasticity to support the on-boarding new locations and systems as a result of mergers and acquisitions, increasing telehealth requirements, and surging demand for remote real-time monitoring.
Additionally, the cloud is essentially a repository for all the information and data flowing through the hospital’s network – it’s just waiting to be capitalized on. With this rich trove of cloud-based data, healthcare organizations can apply analytics and machine learning to find new ways to improve operations and optimize the patient experience. For example, location data can show staff where all the medical devices are stored in the hospital. Hospital staff can use this cloud-based data to manage equipment and devices more efficiently and more securely. For instance, if all the wheelchairs are centered in one area of the hospital, hospital staff can see that and make the necessary adjustments.
The writing is on the wall. Gartner predicts the public cloud services market will reach $266.4 billion this year — up 17 percent from 2019 — indicating the increasing number of organizations making the move to the cloud. But healthcare faces bigger stakes than many industries. Embracing cloud is more than “a tech decision” — it of course impacts health IT, but also trickles down to patients, doctors, and guests. Cloud-based infrastructure helps simplify and safeguard hospital networks, improve overall patient care and coordination, and lays the foundation for the hospital of the future.
This article was originally published to HIT Consultant on June 2, 2020.