Cloud Caution: Healthcare Market Slowly Adopting Cloud

Although cloud computing is among the key industry inflection points, uptake in the medical field has been relatively slow and most often limited to office-related functions, such as scheduling and billing, due in large part to security and compliance concerns hampering potential cloud engagements, according to channel partners seeking to make headway in this prominent vertical market.

"The healthcare market tends to be dipping their toe in the water, but I'm not seeing them make big moves into the cloud," said Chris Vincent, president of Global Data Systems, a Lafayette, La.-based integrator. "Compliance is always an issue in the healthcare space. But I am starting to see fairly large conglomerations of hospitals under a single corporate umbrella begin to come together to host their core applications in a data center, and thereby take advantage of lower costs in a volume deal. This is usually installed into a private cloud architecture where the more you can scale, the more cost-reductions are going to [to be realized]."

Vincent also explained that some of the externally located medical teams that are related to hospitals, such as clinical offices, have started kicking the tires on cloud computing and are often beginning to adopt cloud services in order to eliminate the need for expensive, on-site IT staffs.

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"A lot of the clinics that are related to the hospitals are looking for more of a hosted architecture," he said. "So you might find a radiology group or a gastroenterology group or a urology group with maybe 20 seats that wants something like hosted virtual desktops or offsite storage that can be replicated to support HIPAA compliance, or maybe they want hosted voice and the ability to make their mobile devices work on the voice architecture work in their office or in the hospital by using the wireless system."

Vincent added that many of these teams are open to discussing the deployment of distributed antenna systems that can inexpensively connect mobile devices with the phone system, using an application on the user's device.

"We're definitely seeing mobility inside the environments, and we are currently working on a number of projects right now in support of that," said Jay Kirby, vice president of networking at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider with clients in the medical market. "There's a tremendous amount of movement to solidify and improve the systems within the facilities, and I do see them using private clouds in order to leverage cloud-based technologies, but they are mostly keeping it internal at this time. So I'm not seeing a massive move to cloud services at this point."

Kirby also explained that many of the healthcare corporations have done extensive upgrades to their IT systems over the past five to seven years, adding that the use of such contemporary technologies makes the integration of further enhancements much easier. "Integration hasn't been as bad as you would think," he said. "The companies tend to understand the benefits of the more recent technologies."

NEXT: Key Motivators

When healthcare companies do move toward the cloud, the rationale is usually in step with the market at large. Users are looking to the cloud as a means of establishing greater efficiency, according to Pete Zarras, president of CloudStrategies, a Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based integrator.

"We see them looking for the core business value of the cloud to do more with less, reduce cost, be more predictable, and have better disaster recovery and security," he said. "Historically, we've been tripped up a little by how the different clients interpret and apply various regulations, and sometimes people get squeamish about taking the data outside of their four walls. So we've had some level of success with technologies that provide encryption for data at rest."

Zarras added that in many cases, channel partners still need to help their customers to establish a reasonable comfort level around the use of cloud-based services. But, this becomes easier to accomplish after the customer has positive experiences upon which to build.

"That's a classic consulting engagement philosophy," he said. "We find the greatest success when we engage in a business conversation first and understand their objectives and what they're trying to do. We identify business issues, business goals, and business pain points and then start to look at the technology. When we do it this way, we find that everything flows very smoothly because, by the time you start talking about the technology, you have your eye on the ball about why you are doing things the way you want to do them. Whenever you start the discussion with technology that you want to sell, your motivation may be out of whack."

Within the potential issues around compliance, security also continues to be an important topic of discussion.

"I think they should be even a more concerned about security than they already are," said Jack Gerbs, president of Quanexus, a Dayton, Ohio-based integrator. "They approach security on a check box basis, but they're not really digging in and truly understanding the risk that lies behind the checkbox. They need to talk to security companies about how to control access and secure their networks. They need to take a closer look at who has access to which files, and there should be audit trails on who is accessing which files. They just need to be more careful, otherwise they are far more likely to have a HIPAA breach on their hands."