Health care professionals are unsure about using cloud computing for business, but there are services out there who specialize in setting up dedicated, isolated, private storage facilities for customers that have regulatory compliance concerns.
It seems more and more people have their heads in the clouds these days — cloud computing, that is. The ability to store large amounts of data “off site” is appealing to many, but that is not so in the medical community.
According to a recent survey by market research firm KLAS, there was a fair amount of skepticism on the part of health care providers over the usage of web-based data storage. The survey found that 58% of respondents are considering using cloud computing, but only 35% say they have solid plans to adopt it.
Fred White, who oversees cloud server products for Cbeyond, a provider of IT and communication services to small and mid-sized businesses, isn’t surprised.
“There’s a lot of talk about the cloud in general, but a lot of people haven’t come to the realization about what it means for business in general, let alone the medical and health care world,” White says.
The FUD factor
White says that many people, not only those in the medical field, are experiencing the FUD factor — fear, uncertainty and doubt — when it comes to cloud computing. That’s because they think of the cloud as a ubiquitous place for sharing information, not unlike Drop Box or iCloud from Apple.
“If the main point here is collaboration and people sharing information and not keeping it on your computer, putting it out here where everybody can get to it, well now obviously people have concerns about security and regulatory compliance,” White explains. “Immediately they start to question, ‘Oh my gosh, is my data getting intermingled with other companies' data?’ And so they rightfully, I think, have a healthy dose of skepticism about the care that is taken with the data that they essentially give to their providers to watch out for them.”
But White points out that services like Drop Box, which he says is very good at what it does, has no intention of trying to service someone who has concerns with a regulatory standard like HIPAA. They’re there for consumers to share large amounts of data with other people, or off load it from their local computer.
Instead, health care providers considering a move to cloud computing need to look at cloud services providers, or hosting providers, that specialize in setting up dedicated, isolated, private storage facilities for customers who have regulatory compliance concerns.
The wild, wild West
Part of the challenge, White admits, is that the relatively new field of cloud computing remains a bit unregulated. He points out that in many cases it’s difficult to get a clear definition of what ‘private’ means.
“Some people will say private cloud literally means private,” White says. “It is a company setting up their own cloud infrastructure in their own office or data center. Other people can say private cloud means you’re buying it from a provider, but they’re guaranteeing that it is segmented out from everybody else. So, if our industry, that we, Cbeyond, are actively involved in, can’t even come to grips on what ‘private’ means for different people, that creates confusion.”
White says it’s important for physicians and health care professionals to be aware that some service providers will make promises they can’t keep. For example, he explains that there’s no cloud computing service provider in the world that can go to a health care company or a physician’s office and say that by putting your applications and data on their infrastructure will magically make you HIPAA compliant.
“Unfortunately, people are leading physicians and health care companies to believe that’s the case,” White says.
Making the cloud work
When Northside Psychological Services made the switch to cloud computing, the Alpharetta, Ga.-based firm did so with two key objectives in mind: security and cost. The practice contracted with Cbeyond, and according to Emily Redman, chief information officer, they haven’t been disappointed.
“We use the cloud server to house our online electronic health record,” Redman explains. “The information of our clients is important to us and we must protect it. Cbeyond offered secured servers that no one else would share with us."
On the expense side, Redman says that purchasing a stand-alone server would have been cost-prohibitive. And when combined with the cost for maintaining a stand-alone server, the expense “would have brought our operations to a standstill. Using the cloud server was really our only option.”
Redman says that with any endeavor or new technology there is a learning curve—both for the vendor and the medical practice. But in Northside’s case, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“For our company, [cloud computing] makes the most sense, because we can pay a lesser monthly fee for items our network administrator would normally have to resolve at an hourly rate,” she says. “It was a no-brainer.”
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