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How to prep before installing healthcare cloud services

Projecting total costs and confirming a product meets governing regulations are two steps to take before committing to a cloud product.

Due to the enhanced security and disaster recovery capabilities of many cloud vendors, health IT executives have...

been chipping away at their locally hosted infrastructures and replacing them with healthcare cloud services. The increased level of trust that businesses' technology decision-makers have in cloud vendors allows their organization to hand much of the cloud transition process off to the vendor. But a business should still check in with the vendor during the installation process to avoid challenges that have plagued other IT departments when moving to the cloud.

Fortunately, a number of online resources and consultants offer advice on how to select the right cloud services for healthcare IT. Whether the cloud service under consideration is software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS), accelerator programs and pilot initiatives have a tendency to cause problems that don't arise until weeks or months after the initial deployment of services. To proactively address precursors of project failures or cost leakages, IT executives are familiarizing themselves with the common challenges of migrating to the cloud.

What follows is a list of critical areas healthcare IT executives should evaluate when making a purchasing decision for cloud services.

Ensure cloud services meet regulatory requirements

Whether an organization must guarantee the protection of patients' health data to meet HIPAA requirements, receive a signed business associate agreement from a service provider or have a valid verification that satisfies Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 requirements, it's an absolute must for them to validate the security practices of the vendor(s) under evaluation. This can confirm that a healthcare provider will stay compliant with applicable regulations and help them avoid any penalties.

Perform a detailed cost analysis

Although online calculators can estimate the cost of healthcare cloud services, it takes a detailed cost analysis to truly determine the price of replacing or buying a new product. The price of the required bandwidth and transferring data will play roles in determining the final cost of migrating to the cloud. For certain services such as IaaS, many vendors offer measurements of their processor and memory usage as well as inbound and outbound traffic to help prospective customers accurately measure what their services would cost.

Monitor performance of the system, even when internally hosted

A process must be in place to monitor all systems, including cloud, to ensure they are performing up to anticipated standards. Cloud-based services are not always guaranteed to function at the highest level. Variables such as connectivity and service issues can cause slowdowns if they are not addressed in a timely manner. IT departments must treat cloud-based services the same as they treat on-premises systems. Continuously monitoring a system's performance is the surest way to confirm that end users can use the system effectively.

Evaluate ongoing costs and fluctuations

Similar to deals offered by today's cellular data providers, some cloud services operate under the pay-as-you-go model. This approach reduces total upfront costs, but can result in inflated costs if the data storage and outbound traffic figures exceed expectations.

Prevent disaster even when systems are 'disaster proof'

Risk assessments can help healthcare providers determine whether or not a cloud provider, in combination with hardware and software safeguards, can guarantee controlled access to internal systems and protection of patients' data. Providers should also have a disaster recovery plan ready to set in motion to ensure care continuity after a security incident or system failure. Although the cloud offers better protection against power outages, hardware redundancy and connectivity redundancy, it is still subject to outages and downtime. This means that IT must keep its disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans updated. Doing so can provide insights into possible gaps that should be addressed before they cause major issues.

Transfer data from one cloud to another

Understanding a cloud provider's portability and component interoperability capabilities is critical before committing to long-term cloud services. Healthcare providers should determine if they will be able to move systems, data sets, platforms, infrastructures or all the above into a new environment before committing to a cloud product. They should also find out if the vendor they're evaluating works well with, or its systems are interoperable with, other vendors' systems.

Deploying cloud services for healthcare has provided tangible value and a return on investment for many organizations. Many services can be hosted through the cloud, including email, EHR, storage and servers. Any IT executive can find an area of their business where a cloud service can reduce on-premises dependency. However, turning too many business operations over to the cloud comes with its own set of risks. The long-term costs and growing severity of cyberattacks are causes for concern for health IT professionals.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email
 editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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This was last published in February 2015

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