After years of chatter, health systems are finally loosening the reins and moving some—but not all—of their data to servers off-site, sometimes miles away and maintained by today’s biggest tech giants.
In other words: to the cloud.
What was once considered a risky move, plagued by fears over privacy, security and reliability, now shows no signs of slowing down. An average 39% of information technology workloads are already deployed in the cloud among healthcare organizations, according to a survey of healthcare leaders and staff conducted by HIMSS Media last year. Respondents said they expected that proportion to rise to about 50% of workloads, on average, over the next year.
Cris Ross, chief information officer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said the system’s desire to “find more flexible, powerful environments” for its data and computing led it to begin migrating more data to the cloud. That included a 10-year contract with Google Cloud, which involves both data storage and innovation projects.
“What we discovered in the last couple of years is that the major cloud vendors were beginning to develop specific tools tuned to healthcare” to help manage data, Ross said.
Mayo isn’t alone. Healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to the cloud as a space for innovation efforts, rather than seeing it as just another data center. That’s because cloud providers tend to offer advanced tools for analytics and artificial intelligence, as well as a pricing model that allows organizations to add—and subsequently cut—server space as needed.
Storing data in the cloud can also be a boon for research collaborations. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., in 2018 launched the St. Jude Cloud, a public database of pediatric cancer genomics data that it lets researchers from across the globe access.
But healthcare still lags behind other industries when it comes to cloud adoption.
“Healthcare is definitely behind, but we have to take into consideration the sensitivity of data,” said Prem Somasundaram, principal of healthcare consulting at Perficient. “There’s a lot of data security concerns, and that slows them down (in cloud adoption) compared to other industries.”