Document Management in the Cloud

Alex Choy, EVP of R and D and CIO, Change Healthcare
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Understanding the Growing Advantages for Healthcare

Today’s CIOs are hard-pressed to devise any forward-looking information management strategy without considering the advantages of the cloud. Across all industries, cloud platforms are no longer viewed as an emerging technology, but are readily embraced as a low-cost, highly-efficient, scalable option for advancing IT strategies.

In healthcare, the characteristics of the cloud align well with the need for streamlined, highly-reliable document management and information governance. Because timely and accurate data is critical to all areas of healthcare operations, document management strategies are most effective when the principles of transparency, availability and retention are applied—three areas where cloud environments simply outdo their on-premise counterparts.

As such, traditional brick-and-mortar vendors of document management solutions must evolve with the cloud or risk being left behind. Progressive companies understand that consumers are demanding comprehensive, user-friendly cloud-based platforms that minimize silos and integrate mission critical applications—such as document management, storage and user experience—for the big picture of information governance.

Cloud-Based Document Management: Opportunities and Challenges

Cloud strategies are often a good fit when healthcare organizations:

1.  Need to store voluminous and rapidly-growing data sets;
2. 
Require more timely access to information; and
3. 
Engage in business intelligence and analytics activities.

Typically, the cloud prevails as the cost-effective alternative by eliminating the need for in-house infrastructure investments, long wait-time to purchase and stand up hardware and install software, and ongoing resources associated with maintenance activity. Also, the vast amounts of server space offered in the cloud provide flexibility and elasticity for immediate responsiveness to growth and expansion as required by business demand. 

Three key advantages of document management via the cloud include: streamlined workflows, access control and versioning. Moreover, the cloud’s parallel processing and automatic conflict resolution capabilities enable content contributors, editors and publishers to more easily get and edit content when using any web-based application. For healthcare organizations, this improved access translates into better, more efficient digital document management across the continuum.

Security concerns and perceptions reign as the primary roadblock to uptake of cloud-based document management. For instance, a 2014 Ponemon Institute study found that 70 percent of IT and IT security professionals believe that the complexities of managing privacy and data protection regulations in the cloud are greater than traditional on-site control.

  ‚ÄčTraditional brick-and-mortar vendors of document management solutions must evolve with the cloud or risk being left behind   

The primary security issues of the cloud rest with identification and authentication—two areas that highly-regulated industries like banking and finance are already successfully addressing. In essence, tight access controls must exist to define user roles to ensure that only verified people are accessing and editing documents.

Cloud Considerations, Lessons Learned

As health system CIOs consider the advantages of cloud-based document management, they are in a good position to benefit from the learning curve of other industries. At a high-level, the following lessons learned are applicable to the cloud deployment for many organizations.

Cloud-Based Security Often Matches or Exceeds That of On-Premise

Protecting patient health information is essential, and healthcare organizations must weigh the risks associated with any IT strategy. That said, cloud-based document management is accepted as a secure alternative to on-premise management when the right governance and process controls are in place.

The reality is that the security protocols employed by many cloud vendors often exceed the strategies of in-house IT departments. Resource-strapped healthcare organizations lack the same deep pockets and resources to invest in security infrastructure. Choosing the right partner is the key to alleviating concerns over potential breaches.

Rethink “Lift and Shift” Strategies

Applications designed a decade ago are likely not a good framework for the advanced functionality of cloud computing. Many organizations attempt “lift and shift” strategies of existing software only to find that it is unable to fully leverage cloud functionality in an efficient manner. For example, some cloud offerings enable automatic scaling based on content load. It may take a little more time to rewrite code to align with that functionality, but the cost and workflow advantages are worth the effort.

Watch out for Costs

While cloud infrastructures are helpful for streamlining processes, CIOs are still responsible for overseeing and managing costs. Some healthcare organizations are leveraging an automatic scaling functionality as a tool for cost management. By aligning usage with peak and non-peak application engagement, IT departments produce economies of scale. This is displayed when companies use automated scaling to reflect time zone nuances. Alternatively, when scaling is not proactively managed, organizations often find that they amass and pay for large, unnecessary cloud infrastructures.

Cloud-based computing has been tested and adopted across most industries—including those that are highly regulated—and is now mainstream as a viable, effective information management option.

CIOs who are just beginning to explore the technology space should approach the cloud computing process with an open mind. With the right security and management protocols in place, the benefits of cloud-based document management far outweigh the concerns.

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