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COVID-19, the Great Resignation and "The Cloud"

By Wes Wright, Chief Technology Officer at Imprivata

Healthcare is usually behind the curve when it comes to adopting new technology - and that has been no different with cloud computing. But as cyberattacks rage and the pandemic continues to swamp hospitals everywhere, health systems have come under fire, forcing industry leaders to reconsider their approach to cybersecurity.

This comes as no surprise, considering that the healthcare cloud computing market is projected to grow by 126% by 2026, reaching over $52.3 million in market value. Perspectives on cloud in healthcare are changing dramatically; while there are many useful cloud capabilities, there is one main driver behind adoption: COVID-19.

How is the pandemic driving cloud adoption?

The onset of the pandemic overwhelmed multiple areas of the healthcare system. Rising numbers of COVID-19 patients gave a heavier workload not only to clinicians, but to IT leaders as they are tasked with more digital information to manage, secure, and monitor. This continues to result in serious burnout across organizations, contributing, in turn, to a workforce shortage.

Meanwhile, the threat of cyberattacks looms in the background. Rapidly growing amounts of valuable and sensitive data have to be managed in a flexible and scalable way, without putting a significant burden on caregivers and IT leaders. Embracing a holistic digital identity strategy is critical for the wellbeing and longevity of patients, caregivers, and health systems.

Why is a digital identity strategy important for cloud adoption?

A username, password, and other identifying credentials make up a user's digital identity, whether that be internal employees or third-party partners. In healthcare, this data is the gateway to a wealth of information stored in EMRs and databases. Without having the right solutions in place to identify, prevent, and recover from threats, the repercussions of a breach can be devastating.

Because there is no ‘one size fits all' approach to cybersecurity, HDOs should evaluate their strategy for managing, securing, and monitoring all digital identities across and outside of the organization. Fortunately, in addition to improving security and achieving compliance, implementing a holistic digital identity strategy based on zero trust principles can help HDOs identify and understand the areas of their infrastructure where introducing cloud would be the most effective to safeguard their people, assets, and data.

For HDOs struggling with workforce shortages, resource constraints, cost pressures, and obtaining adequate cyber insurance, cloud capabilities can provide unique opportunities to drive innovation through long-term digital transformation.

Combating the Great Resignation with cloud

Practically every industry has been impacted by talent shortages over the last two years - but perhaps none were as badly affected as healthcare. Since the start of the pandemic, approximately 20% of healthcare workers quit their jobs, creating a significant, long-term challenge for organizations to attract and retain talent.

HDOs are keenly feeling the burden of attracting care providers, but the same applies to their IT departments. Employee responsibilities are expanding across departments, resulting in a never-ending cycle of burnout and resource constraints. From telehealth to data storage and management, cloud technologies can substitute for a lot of the missing pieces.

Staying secure despite resource constraints

The introduction of the EMR was a major turning point for healthcare, essentially becoming the first building block in the industry's digital environment. But now, another transformation is happening - this time driven by the cloud - and it is sure to impact the way hospitals store, manage, and access data.

Although on-premises storage used to be the most effective method, evolving cyberattacks prove this is no longer sustainable. Instead, cloud is a more appealing option because it is more secure and scalable. All storage maintenance and support can be outsourced to cloud providers as well, which is especially helpful for those struggling to find qualified IT workers.

Cloud uses analytical tools that handle database management, artificial intelligence, and more. As cloud converts that data into valuable information, IT leaders do not have to complete these tasks manually and can focus on the most pressing issues in their organization.

Reducing cost pressures through cloud

Today, IT and cyber insurance costs are only increasing, and many hospital budgets are struggling to keep up. Fortunately, cloud can help with this, too. It is significantly cheaper to store data in the cloud than on-premises - with organizations spending 50-70% less when storing personal health information (PHI) in the cloud.

Cloud is a cheaper option because very little is required to stand up the infrastructure, with little to no upfront costs for hardware or licensing. There is also the scalability component. Cloud allows users to pay as they go for storage and availability while offering practically limitless room to grow. It also supports remote access, benefitting both the administrative remote workforce and clinicians using mobile devices.

The first step into cloud

It would be a massive lift to switch every hospital to a cloud-first approach, so hybrid cloud solutions will likely make up the digital healthcare landscape in the near future. Any cybersecurity strategy that combines private storage infrastructure with the public cloud is considered hybrid.

First, HDOs must develop a digital identity strategy to understand what their hybrid cloud environment will look like. The good news is that a hybrid infrastructure is highly customizable to an HDO's workload.

We will continue to see capabilities of both healthcare and digital identity providers evolve with the cloud, enabling a sure-fire way for users to focus more on care and less on technology. The switch to cloud will not happen overnight but the technology will certainly reduce many exhausting burdens that the healthcare industry faces today and tomorrow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wes Wright, CTO at Imprivata

Wes-Wright 

Wes Wright is the Chief Technology Officer at Imprivata. Wes brings more than 20 years of experience with healthcare providers, IT leadership, and security. Prior to joining Imprivata, Wes was the CTO at Sutter Health, where he was responsible for technical services strategies and operational activities for the 26-hospital system. Wes has been the CIO at Seattle Children's Hospital and has served as the Chief of Staff for a three-star general in the US Air Force.

Wes holds a B.S. in Business and Management from the University of Maryland and received his MBA from The University of New Mexico.

Published Monday, August 15, 2022 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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