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How the Cloud Can Poise Healthcare Organizations for the Future

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Healthcare is an expensive business – especially in the United States. By using new and modern technologies to improve their focus and agility, hospitals hope to better respond to changes in the healthcare sector, manage data across the enterprise, and improve the patient experience.

In this white paper from Healthcare Informatics, we explore the challenges that healthcare organizations face as they attempt to modernize efforts in the areas of data collection and analysis, value-based care strategies, and patient and caregiver engagement.

What you’ll learn:

- How you can deliver better care at a lower cost, faster

- How the right, agile infrastructure securely manages PHI

- What CIOs need to know to make the right technology investments for the future

 


 

Executive Summary

Healthcare is an expensive business—especially in the United States. According to a Commonwealth Fund issue brief, America far outspends other high-income countries on healthcare spending. Yet, despite such an enormous investment, our healthcare sector somehow has worse outcomes to show for those trillions of dollars spent.i Many organizations hope that they can bridge the gap between patient spend and patient outcomes, vastly improving the quality of care, by modernizing a variety of different protocols across the enterprise. By using new and modern technologies to improve their focus and agility, hospitals hope to better respond to changes in the healthcare sector, manage data across the enterprise, and improve the patient experience—all while remaining compliant to the stringent security guidelines set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The purpose of this white paper is to better understand the challenges that healthcare organizations face as they attempt to modernize efforts in the areas of data collection and analysis, value-based care strategies, and patient and caregiver engagement. This report will discuss how outdated technology investments hamper these efforts— especially as hospitals and other healthcare providers attempt to partner with fellow provider organizations, health information exchanges (HIEs), and accountable care organizations (ACOs) to fully take advantage of the shift to value-based care reimbursements. It will discuss the benefts of “cloud.” How modern cloud services can help healthcare organizations improve patient and caregiver experience to deliver better care at a lower cost faster. It will discuss concerns about privacy and security—and how the right infrastructure can help organizations manage patient health information (PHI) in a safe and secure fashion. And, fnally, it will highlight what healthcare chief information offcers (CIOs) and information technology decision makers need to know as they invest in new and more agile information technology infrastructures in order to reduce costs and improve the quality of care across the enterprise—no matter what changes tomorrow may bring—in order to be best positioned to succeed in a value-based care environment.

 

Introduction

There is no way around it: the business of healthcare is an expensive proposition in the United States.

In 2014, the Commonwealth Fund reported that national health expenditures had increased 5.3% to reach a total of approximately $3 trillion across the country. That’s 17.5% of the American economy share—signifcantly more than most other countries spend.ii

Perhaps such an immense dollar amount would be easier to justify if patient outcomes were better. But, in comparison with similar high-income countries, the Commonwealth Fund reported that American healthcare resulted shorter life expectancies, higher prevalence of chronic medical conditions, and, overall, generally poorer health outcomes than in other nations with signifcantly lower healthcare costs.iii

Where is the disconnect? What can account for such a difference between costs and results in the United States?

There is no simple answer—rather there are a combination of converging factors that are driving U.S. healthcare costs to such heights. First, the so-called Baby Boomers are living much longer than previous generations. And that aging population is only growing and requiring more care. The government’s various entitlement programs are ballooning in costs as they try to keep up with those needs. The healthcare industry, to stay competitive in the face of a switch to the value-based care paradigm, seems in constant fux with mergers, acquisitions and new partnerships. And, fnally, most healthcare organizations are wasting too much of their information technology (IT) budget on expensive and outdated technological infrastructures.

Nadav Benbarak, Product and Go-To-Market Leader at Okta (https://www.okta.com/), a cloud-based technology platform developer based in San Francisco, California, says that because the United States does spend so much, but still has the worst outcomes relative to that spend, there is tremendous pressure to fnd new ways to become more effcient and fnd savings.

“One way to help drive down your costs is to modernize operations—to fnd the kind of technology solutions that help you remain agile, instead of keeping your organization always a step or two behind,” he says.

But to gain that kind of agility, healthcare organizations need to think beyond today’s trends. They need to make the kind of technology investments that will not only allow their organizations to thrive today—but also for years to come. Today’s expensive commitments to unwieldy on-premises, or “on-prem,” systems simply cannot keep up with an environment fraught with changing regulations, the formation of new systems and partnerships, and new, more comprehensive patient information exchange requirements. Most technology consumers in the healthcare sector will tell you that the typical systems they interface with can be upwards of fve or even ten years older than what you would fnd in other industries. In a recent analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, medical equipment and instruments currently in use are the oldest they’ve been since 1945.iv And the aging of those systems often result in an inferior user experience, as well as inferior information exchange and data reporting capabilities. Those inferior experiences translate into inferior patient care and increased costs across the board. That includes technological infrastructures for data management and exchange.

The healthcare industry is experiencing its own kind of disruption. Looking for ways to “leapfrog” into the future—looking to be more agile, effcient, and cost-effective in the face of a constantly shifting environment of needs and regulations.

And healthcare organizations can fnd such an opportunity with the implementation of cloud-based technology solutions.

Improving Outcomes, Reducing Costs Through Agile Infrastructure

Certainly, the idea of using modernization to reduce costs is not a new one—in healthcare or elsewhere. In fact, in 2009, the Center for American Progress reported that rapidly infating healthcare costs could be better managed with targeted investments in better infrastructure.That includes technological infrastructure—including cloud-based technologies.

Simply defned, the “cloud” is a means of storing and accessing data and programs over the World Wide Web instead of on servers and hard drives.vi You are likely already using such platforms for your offce or other business applications. And they do offer remarkable fexibility and cost savings, across different business verticals.

Today’s cloud-based platforms allow healthcare organizations to store and process information across a network of servers so that data can be accessed from any time and any place. Recent analyses of cloud offerings suggest that it may be uniquely poised to help healthcare organizations stay more agile with support for the kinds of large data sets that are required for patient health information (PHI), the facilitation of sharing that data across multiple sites, and the enabling of real-time business and patient care analysis.vii Certainly, other industries have quickly adopted new cloud-based platforms to take advantage of these benefts. But healthcare has lagged behind due to unique industry-based concerns regarding both the security and availability of data.viii But a recent IDC Health Insights report shows that those concerns are waning—with survey respondents suggesting they planned to spend more than one-fifth of their information technology budgets on cloud-related offerings.ix The main driver for those plans? The need to nimbly keep up with the dynamics of today’s healthcare sector, without breaking the budget.

The IDC Health Insights report found that more than 40% of respondents were reporting an increased comfort level with cloud-based technologies. It’s likely that comfort is due to the fact that many healthcare organizations have already adopted cloud-based technologies for offce applications that don’t deal with sensitive patient information —yet still handle important fnancial or business data. But, to date, there have been a lack of strong offerings specifc to the day-to-day workfows of providing care. Core healthcare applications like electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic prescribing systems have not been delivered as modern cloud-based services. In fact many of them have not even been offered as web-based. So while there is a pervasive notion that healthcare is opposed to cloud-based technologies on principle, the real barrier to adoption, to date, has actually been the lack of cloud-based applications available to healthcare providers that address their critical, and sometimes complex, patient care workfows.

Another perceived barrier involves security. As noted in the IDC Health Insights report, healthcare organizations need to consider privacy and security concerns as they make any technology investment. What many healthcare organizations may not realize is that enterprise grade cloud services improve security, not degrade it. Moving systems of record, systems of engagement and core platforms like infrastructure, identity, business intelligence…to the cloud offers tremendous opportunity for a more secure and agile enterprise. Cloud service providers have the ability to apply far more resources to security efforts, which help to address core requirements that were originally impractical for an independent IT organization to achieve. Cloud identity management also helps by providing second-factor authentication, leading to a more secure environment. Cloud delivery models introduce speed and lower cost, allowing the organization to transform faster and at a lower cost without compromising on security.

Cloud has proven that security does not need to come at the expense of agility. Since cloud-based technologies are constantly improving, healthcare organizations can use them to implement clean, reliable platforms that allow them to modernize processes for a variety of different end user groups. Benbarak says the cloud offers far larger economies of scale on the same pieces of functionality you can fnd in older systems.

“You can fnd new features and services that are being shipped every week,” he says. “Which means your organization will always have the latest software, the best feature sets, and the kind of fexible options that allow you to use the features you really need without extra labor.”

Simply stated, the cloud drastically simplifes the kind of architecture necessary for healthcare organizations to apply new and fexible solutions across the enterprise. And that fexibility means that provider organizations can remain not only agile in the face of any new requirements that may be coming down the pipeline—but also cost effcient.

 

Facilitating Modernization Efforts

Healthcare organizations, now more than ever, are looking closely at every budget line, trying to justify expenditures. While they understand that technology investments can help them reduce costs in the long-term, hospital information technology departments often have a limited budget and a long list of prioritized projects to complete. It can be hard to consider truly innovative modernization projects when you feel so far behind. But with the right cloud-based platform in place, you can quickly, easily, and inexpensively implement projects that will exponentially pay off over time.

Take data analysis. Healthcare organizations are relying more and more on data to help them make vital decisions, both regarding patient care and core business practices. Value-based care and population health initiatives mean that having clean data is a must—but it can be diffcult to get to. One example is identity and access data. Ed Sawma, Director of Product Marketing at Okta, says this is because many healthcare enterprises have a large number of different applications that have been rolled out across the organization and no way to correlate user access or other critical data components.

“The cloud can offer an organization a centralized identity and access platform. And when you have a centralized identity and access platform, you are able tie all that important data together to run meaningful analyses…”he says.

Today, with traditional on-prem systems, data analysis can be a burden—and quite expensive as healthcare organizations attempt to cobble activity and access rights in order to measure the things they need to measure. In fact, key stakeholders often spend more time preparing data for analysis than on the analyses itself—and much of the data that could help them make smarter, more informed business decisions might still remain absent.x Cloud-based platforms not only allow for secure data—but also for rich, structured, and searchable data sets that tie critical data elements together, allowing healthcare organizations to gain new and accurate insights into how they deliver care —and how to make that care more effcient in the long run.

But such gains aren’t just limited to the business side of the house. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, patients are now consumers. They have the power to choose their care providers—and expect modern tools and support that allow them to play a more active role in their own care.xi And more modern cloud-based technologies have a lot to offer those healthcare consumers. With the agility, effciency, and cost-effectiveness of cloud-based platforms in place, healthcare organizations now have the ability to fnd innovative ways to serve customer needs quickly and effectively. That, in turn, leads to better adoption of healthcare recommendations, improved outcomes, and lowered costs.

But, of course, you have to have the kind of tools and resources that are truly meaningful —which patients will actually want to use. And that requires a fair amount of agility as well. As any provider organization can tell you, it can be diffcult to understand what consumers are going to want. Some patients in one location may want online tools; others may be more likely to use telemedicine offerings. And as the millennial generation comes of age, the ways they will want to interact with physicians and provider organizations may be different still.

Ann Marie Isleib says younger patients want to interact with healthcare the way they interact with so many other industries—conveniently from their personal devices.

“Patients don’t want to call their doctor’s offce to get test results or make an appointment. Patients and caregivers want to drive engagement when and where it is most convenient to them,” she says. “Providers that leverage modern cloud services to drive improved patient and caregiver engagement, are fnding they are better positioned to deliver improved care at a lower cost.”

With that information on hand, healthcare organizations can safely, securely deploy a variety of self-service and patient portal technologies in a quick and agile way. They can better plan how to use technology and different applications to help patients and improve overall outcomes across different generations and communities. In doing so, they can remain competitive in the marketplace—while protecting patient information and the bottom line.

 

Conclusion

More and more, it’s becoming clear that the cloud offers healthcare organizations the kind of agility and effciency that can promote the kind of modernization efforts that directly translate into improved patient care and cost savings —whether an organization is trying to drive effciencies and deliver enhanced services through M&A, send and receive information through a state healthcare information exchange, get more patients on board with population health initiatives, or is simply to gather the right data to make sound budget decisions. But not all cloud-based platforms are created equal.xii So what should information technology stakeholders be looking for when searching for the right partner?

Today, with the cloud, innovation is happening at a remarkable rate. Healthcare is a prime target for this exciting innovation and investment. Cloud-based platforms allow healthcare organizations the ability to quickly implement an astonishing portfolio of different services, swapping different applications in and out as needed. This agility and choice allows organizations to become more effcient having a direct and positive impact on healthcare costs. Such benefts require a vendor with a proven track record, who can explain their architecture, and who can demonstrate how their service is enterprise-grade.

Furthermore, identity and secure access is a key part of successfully utilizing cloud. Healthcare organizations can no longer think of identity as some sort of back-offce support function. It’s critical to improving care—and reducing healthcare costs—all while keeping patient health information safe and secure.

Benbarak says that chief information offcers, and other IT decision-makers, need to fnd solutions that deal with every identity. “The right identity strategy connects everything today—yet preserves choice so users can pick the applications and services they need to solve any problems that may come their way,” he says. “But reliability also is an 11 Movement and Modernization: How the Cloud Can Poise Healthcare Organizations for the Future important concern. Stakeholders should pick a solution that comes with expert service and support to ensure their success with deployment and future innovation.”

But once you manage identity, and with that, security, you also have to fnd a vendor that can fully deliver on necessary use cases—the use cases that will solve your organizations day-to-day problems. The right vendor won’t just present you with a checklist and ask you to check off a variety of feature boxes. They will work each use case all the way through, leveraging the cloud’s agility in order to achieve improved care and more predictable costs.

Today, healthcare organizations need to consider the big picture—and think long-term. Trying to solve only today’s problems will leave your organization behind. But taking a three-to-fve year time horizon—and fnding a vendor who can support that kind of thinking—will help your organization remain fexible and competitive. The right cloudbased platform will allow your organization to leverage a remarkable number of key effciencies—as well as agility and cost savings that allow your healthcare organization to adapt and thrive. This kind of long view can close the innovation gap that has likely been plaguing your IT department—and allows you the power to modernize as you see ft. You can roll out the services you need today, and remain confdent that your data will stay secure. And you have the fexibility to adapt as the environment changes and roll out the services you may need tomorrow to help you achieve your business and patient care goals. The right platform—a cloud-based platform—offers healthcare organizations a new and reliable way to stay on top of their needs, whether they involve managing the patient experience, improving privacy and security, or making clean data available for analysis. And, in implementing that platform, healthcare organizations can fnd signifcant cost savings even as they modernize—staying current and competitive in a chaotic environment.

 

Learn More…

To learn more about the kind of cloud-based technologies that can transform your facility into a more agile, effcient, and secure organization, visit Okta at https://www.okta.com/solutions/.

 

References…

i http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective
ii https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/downloads/highlights.pdf
iii http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective
iv http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-06/america-is-aging-in-more-ways-than-one
v https://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/healthcare/reports/2009/05/11/6073/health-system-modernization-will-reduce-the-defcit/
vi http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372163,00.asp
vii http://www.cloud-council.org/deliverables/CSCC-Impact-of-Cloud-Computing-on-Healthcare.pdf
viii http://www.healthcare-informatics.com/article/embracing-cloud
ix https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US40883115
x https://marksmith.ventanaresearch.com/2015/02/21/the-establishment-of-data-preparation/
xi http://www.theberylinstitute.org/blogpost/947424/232056/Navigating-the-Path-Ahead-A-Roadmap-for-Patient-and-Family-Engagement
xii http://www.jmir.org/2011/3/e67/

How the Cloud Can Poise Healthcare Organizations for the Future