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How private or hybrid cloud storage solutions can improve care

Hospitals should use public cloud for population data, but they might also benefit from other cloud options.

This is the fourth and final tip in a series exploring cloud computing in healthcare. The first tip looked at cloud computing as a storage solution, and the second explored the types of storage available for healthcare data. The third tip considers the use of public and private clouds in storage applications. Storage policies and the regulatory environment are discussed here.

Jon Gaasedelen

A final requirement dictating where data is stored is tied to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Both these organizations are coordinating the implementation of electronic medical records in hospitals and clinics, and to accomplish this, they have advised on the meaningful use of electronic medical records.

According to the two regulatory groups, one indication that an organization is using an EMR meaningfully is that it can exchange health information between hospitals and clinics which is one of the greatest benefits of cloud storage. Which leads to the final question that all hospitals should ask: How will stored data be accessed?

The overall implied question framing this discussion can be answered by addressing the data access question. That is, what do hospitals need to know about public or hybrid cloud storage before they decide to use either option?

The easy answer is that all hospitals should use the public cloud for storage of population health and well-being information. A more difficult issue surrounds what kind of data a hospital should contribute to public cloud storage. This question is harder to answer because the answer must abate hospitals' two concerns. The first is how a hospital can differentiate itself from others while maintaining its competitive edge. The second is how a hospital can retain its position in the industry while serving the greater good of the population.

A third, more difficult concern arises after these first two are addressed. This third concern relates to hospitals' need to store their differentiating operations data privately, and store and report their detailed outcome data publicly. When this detailed outcome data is massaged, and de-identified, it can be put into a public storage cloud and can be used for health information exchange.

A hospital's detailed outcome data is something else to consider. This data is the end product of the operations data collected and processed that returns a patient to health. It needs consistent and constant collection with automated inputs and minimal human intervention. It also takes skilled hands to understand and make use of this data. Earlier, an indication was made that by answering the "where" question, other situations could arise that require more than simply providing cloud storage, and could require heavier cloud-computing tasks. Massaging stored patient data into detailed outcome data is one such situation for which hybrid cloud computing could be the answer.

Think in terms of a hospital locally differentiating itself from others for its skill in treating a particular ailment, say heart disease. Locally, this hospital is superior in producing successful patient outcomes for heart disease. Nationally or internationally, however, the same institution may be above average but not better than everyone else. In these cases a hybrid cloud consisting of local, national and international heart centers is a viable solution, because this will enable sharing of detailed heart information from a variety of sources. If this virtual heart center also contains research work and data manipulation of successful and notable heart physicians and researchers, then a vast center for physician consultation exists and is as simple to use as merely logging in to the Internet site.

Every hospital should ask itself four main questions as it evaluates and decides to use cloud storage solutions. These are the same questions asked for any research inquiry: who, what, where and how. In this case, these questions must be qualified: Who is your storage vendor, what is the nature of your data, where is that data currently stored and how will people access it? The goal of these questions is to provide the hospital with details about its own cloud storage possibilities. It's also very important information required to work with any vendor. This information will greatly enhance any hospital-vendor relationship, and it will help any hospital position itself for any storage-related initiative.

About the author:
Jon Gaasedelen is an independent IT consultant with more than 20 years' experience in information systems infrastructures. He has an undergraduate degree in economics and a master's degree in health informatics, both from the University of Minnesota. Let us know what you think about the story; email
editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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