What will you do with that data center space?

Is there anyone left to passionately defend onsite data centers?

Perhaps, but attendance at advocacy meetings is probably sparse. Soon, the onsite data center proponents will get lumped with eight-track tape aficionados and supporters of leeches as medical technology.

While some hospitals still maintain local data centers, recent trends suggest many are letting someone else do the work by going with the “cloud” option.

Increasingly, hospital CEOs and their technology lieutenants are realizing that remote hosting and data storage is at least as secure as the local option. Cloud computing also makes life easier on hospital administrators by providing additional advantages:

  1. Scalability: The expansion of storage capacity is a simple, straightforward task. (Perhaps the best part of the equation is that it is their task, not yours.) Instead of buying and installing servers, simply contact your cloud-services provider and purchase additional storage space. Their servers are online already and can become part of your IT operations very quickly.

    But scalability itself isn’t as exciting as what a hospital can do with it. At the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital, researchers are using cloud hosting of massive amounts of data to crunch numbers on breast cancer. Where it might be difficult and costly for one hospital to marshal the necessary computing power with projects like this, cloud-oriented options make it a valuable reality.

    And if you’re not a huge hospital with millions of dollars to spend on research? You can still move toward virtual visits and patient-monitoring applications that help fill gaps in patient care. Most developers of patient empowerment tools access the cloud to host the data their clients are generating through application use. 

  2. Financial benefit: In accounting terms, the argument was once that capital expenditure was better than an operating expense thanks to depreciation and amortization. That’s changing. It turns out that while the costs of IT infrastructure are predictable, the certainty that the infrastructure will meet organizational needs and goals is not. Older systems that were completely paid for and require little maintenance are also increasingly inadequate, especially when it comes to security updates and support.

    Is the cloud less expensive for every hospital in every scenario? No, probably not in the short term. But the costs of cloud computing are falling more rapidly than that of onsite hardware and software, making the cloud a sound and strategic investment if costs are in the same ballpark. 

  3. Collaboration: Examples of “cloud collaboration” have proliferated in the last decade with the advent of Google Docs and Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and others. The Mt. Sinai research effort above is a good example of how an effective collaborative platform can provide access to cancer researchers around the world. In the provision of healthcare itself, collaboration is all about doctor and patient and the myriad ways communication is enhanced in the cloud. Physician collaboration solutions (telehealth), health information exchanges and electronic health records all become more useful tools because they are available anywhere and at any time, because they reduce the time to diagnosis and because they give doctors ready access to crucial historical data.

Of course, once you migrate IT for your hospital to the cloud, you might have some extra space where the data center once was. If you need any ideas about what to do with that space, with tongue firmly placed in cheek, here are a few.

  • Buy old Pac Man and Asteroids games so the surgeons can keep their fingers loose between events.
  • Create an entertainment room that shows nothing but ER, St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, MASH and Marcus Welby, MD, reruns.
  • Open a petting zoo with baby goats, puppies and kittens to comfort clinical staff.
  • Yoga

Of course, these attempts at humor are not intended to make light of serious subjects. Your hospital and the care you provide are serious concerns, indeed, and at the heart of efforts to develop a comprehensive healthcare IT platform.

Regardless of what you do with the additional space, your hospital will benefit in many ways from cloud computing. While the initial transition may prove tedious and time-consuming, your hospital will already be thriving as new healthcare IT changes emerge, enabling an agility and imperviousness to change that is difficult to duplicate with local hardware and software. 

Richard Sullivan is chief operations officer for Medsphere Systems Corporation, the solution provider for the OpenVista electronic health record.

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