Before 2009, fewer than 10 percent of non-federal acute-care hospitals were using electronic health records (EHRs). The HITECH Act of 2009 sparked a change by incentivizing adoption of new technologies in healthcare. It also mandated that providers implement and demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs to maintain their existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels.
This combination of incentives and a mandate worked: Today more than 96 percent of non-federal acute-care hospitals use EHRs. Other types of providers have shown similar large-scale shifts from the old days of paper record keeping.
The digitalization of health records among all providers is helping increase the speed and efficiency of healthcare, which can ultimately improve outcomes. But digitalization also presents new challenges for healthcare IT groups. In particular, IT groups need to figure out where they should store all of these digital records.
For many organizations, the cloud is the answer. Storing EHRs in the cloud can help you accommodate growing record volumes while avoiding large-scale capital expenditures.
In this blog post, we’ll highlight more of the key benefits of storing EHRs in the cloud, examine common misconceptions about using cloud storage in healthcare, and address frequently asked questions about ensuring HIPAA compliance in the cloud.
What are the benefits of storing healthcare data in the cloud?
Using a public cloud to store patients’ medical records offers IT, business, and clinical benefits.
OpEx cost model
If you store medical records in-house, you will need to buy, configure, manage, and maintain physical hardware. The initial capital expenditure can make a serious dent in your budget. And until you reach full storage capacity, you’ll have underutilized systems. When you do reach capacity, you’ll need to buy more hardware. By storing EHRs in the cloud, you can benefit from an OpEx model that lets you pay for only what you need.
The volume of patient records that you need to store will continue to grow. Cloud storage offers simple, fast, and cost-effective scalability. You can avoid buying more physical hardware and gain the agility to scale up with just a few clicks.
Backup and disaster recovery
Just as cloud storage can spare you capital expenditures for a primary storage system, it can also help you avoid the capital costs of backup storage and disaster recovery (DR) environments. Most cloud service providers (CSPs) offer backup and DR services that let you easily protect data, frequently backing up patient records and replicating data to geographically distant locations.
Using the cloud for storage can make it easier to access advanced analytics, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), data visualization, and other cutting-edge technologies. You can apply those cloud-based capabilities to your data to identify trends, model the course of diseases, and assist with clinical decision-making. And by storing your data in the cloud, you can take advantage of those technologies without having to move large volumes of data from one environment to another.
In many cases, CSPs can offer better storage performance than you can deliver from your own, in-house data center. Enabling clinicians to access patient histories and even large, complex scans rapidly helps accelerate decision-making.
Keeping records in the cloud can make it easier for distinct teams and practices to share patient information. Instead of having to transmit data from one provider to the next, you can implement role-based access to centralized storage. Clinicians can securely access the information they need anytime, from any device.
What are some common misconceptions about using the cloud for healthcare?
Organizations that are reluctant to move EHRs to the cloud might hold some common misconceptions about cloud services.
“The cloud is not as secure as on-premises environments.”
When cloud services were first introduced, some healthcare organizations—and other businesses—were slow to move data to the cloud because of security concerns. IT groups believed that keeping data on premises would enable them to keep tighter reigns on access and avoid becoming a target for large-scale cyberattacks on public clouds.
But today, CSPs can generally offer more robust, advanced security capabilities than organizations can cost-effectively implement on their own. Meanwhile, small and medium-sized businesses with on-premises environments are more frequently targeted by cybercriminals because they have weaker defenses. Storing medical records in the cloud is often the best way to protect records from cybersecurity threats.
“The main benefit of cloud storage is DR.”
DR is in fact a strong benefit for cloud storage. Large CSPs, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, have multiple, geographically distributed data centers. You can replicate your data to distant locations and immediately fail over to those locations if power outages or weather issues affect your primary site.
However, DR is certainly not the only benefit of cloud storage. While some organizations might take their initial steps to the cloud by implementing DR services, they can tap into a wealth of other benefits—from better performance and scalability to CapEx cost avoidance and easier collaboration.
“Storing data in the cloud jeopardizes data ownership.”
You own the data whether you store it in your own data center or in the cloud. You can get your data back whenever you want it, in its original format.
“Cloud costs will wind up being higher than in-house storage.”
Depending on how much data you store in the cloud and what services you use, cloud storage costs can add up. Understanding all the potential costs of cloud storage before you migrate data is essential. For example, you should factor in the costs of transferring files to and from the cloud when you are planning a migration.
The main cost advantage of the cloud is the shift from a CapEx model to an OpEx model. You can trade large expenditures for more predictable spending that covers only the resources that you use.
Cloud storage: Compliance FAQs
For healthcare organizations considering the cloud for storing medical records, the most frequently asked questions center on HIPAA compliance and HITRUST certification.
How can you ensure HIPAA compliance in the cloud?
Complying with HIPAA regulations is a top concern for healthcare organizations that are contemplating any type of cloud migration—and it should be. For any organization that stores protected health information (PHI), HIPAA compliance is non-negotiable.
When you use the cloud for storing medical records, compliance becomes a shared responsibility. Your CSP must be willing to enter into a business associate agreement (BAA) with your organization. That BAA makes the CSP liable for compliance with HIPAA rules. Importantly, some cloud providers—such as Apple with its iCloud service—are not willing to enter into BAAs.
The right CSP will not only enter into a BAA but also provide the full range of capabilities for adhering to HIPAA privacy and security rules. Some CSPs will offer additional services or tools to help you comply with regulations. Still, working with a healthcare-focused managed service provider (MSP) can make it easier to create a HIPAA-compliant storage environment. The MSP can help you select and configure cloud-based services while enabling you to implement automated tools for ongoing compliance monitoring.
How do you achieve HITRUST certification when you use cloud services?
HITRUST certification, which proves compliance with HIPAA regulations, is becoming increasingly important in healthcare. Payers, partner organizations, and patients want to know that providers are strictly following HIPAA rules. Still, achieving HITRUST certification can be a complex, time-consuming process.
Choosing the right CSP can help address some of the burdens of HITRUST certification by enabling you to inherit security controls that you need to implement. But working with a healthcare-focused MSP can further streamline certification by enabling you to inherit more controls while also assisting with cloud service configuration and enabling you to automate continuous monitoring.
Make the move to cloud storage
The HITECH Act and its EHR mandate drove the widespread digitalization of medical records. As the volume of those electronic records continues to rise, more providers are now contemplating storing them in the cloud.
Compared with traditional on-premises data centers, the cloud can offer numerous advantages for storing EHRs. But to make the most of the cloud, your organization should consider working with an MSP that has deep healthcare expertise. Cloudticity can help you seamlessly transition to cloud storage for medical records, establish HIPAA compliance, and streamline HITRUST certification.
Ready to make the move to cloud storage for your medical records? Download "The Challenges of Moving EHR to AWS – and How to Overcome” to learn more. Or contact one of our cloud storage specialists today.