Top considerations for choosing a healthcare cloud partner
Healthcare organizations have more data on their hands than ever and require a secure, scalable and easy-to-use solution for storing and accessing their growing data assets. Cloud services are increasingly becoming the option of choice due to their generally cost-effective offerings and reliable performance. However, not all cloud service partners are created equal, and not all are ideally equipped to manage the unique needs of the healthcare environment.
What should healthcare organizations consider when choosing a cloud partner to co-manage their valuable and sensitive data?
Reputation and trust
There are always risks when partnering with another business entity for any service. Healthcare leaders can mitigate these risks as much as possible by ensuring they are working with a company that brings a strong reputation and an open, honest and trustworthy approach to the relationships.
In the cloud computing environment, three major companies enjoy the lion’s share of the market: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. It may make sense to work with one of these big names, since many colleagues in the healthcare industry also trust them with their data.
However, working with a slightly less well-known cloud provider that boasts targeted experience in the healthcare ecosystem could be a better fit for some enterprises. Organizations need to carefully assess their prospective partners for a history of successful relationships in their specific area of need as well as the ability to adhere to promises about services and downtime. Leaders may wish to get recommendations from peers, if available, to further build their confidence.
Compliance and security
Privacy and security are paramount in the healthcare industry, and there is no room for error when it comes to safeguarding data. Cloud service providers should be able to fully demonstrate their compliance with relevant regulations and certifications, including ISO, HITRUST and HIPAA, and clearly explain the division of responsibilities for each party.
Be sure to understand exactly what the cloud provider will do and what will remain in the hands of the enterprise. Don’t forget to ask about physical security and environmental safeguards.
Ultimately, compliance is the healthcare organization’s responsibility. Gaps in compliance can come with steep penalties and lead to breaches, ransomware and other negative consequences, so this must be a top item on the agenda.
Total cost of services
Also top of mind for healthcare organizations: Cost. Some cloud providers offer pay-as-you-go contracts or per-user pricing that allow for more flexibility, while others rely on a flat rate or a tiered pricing structure. Make certain to compare options and choose a plan that will grow along with the organization’s needs.
Be certain to get clarity around any additional fees for technical support or enhanced services. Technical support will certainly become necessary at some point in the relationship, so understanding the investment involved will be crucial for ensuring seamless access to critical data assets.
Technical capabilities and service level agreements
“The cloud” isn’t a single, homogenous entity that is carved up by different providers who all offer a piece of the same pie. Instead, each company builds, develop, and maintains its own version of remote data storage solutions. That means that one company’s cloud may have slightly different architecture than another’s.
In a complex health IT environment where integration with existing infrastructure is not always a given, healthcare organizations must be confident that their chosen partner’s architecture is compatible with established systems, needs and business functions. Deployment, maintenance and upgrades should be relatively easy and be conducted through modern standards and mechanisms.
Organizations should spend significant time reviewing their specific needs and the cloud provider’s available options before agreeing to a contract. Developing a clear, detailed and comprehensive service level agreement (SLA) is fundamental for a successful cloud partnership. The SLA should cover as many eventualities as possible and should be reviewed by the legal department and key technical stakeholders before signing.
Choosing a cloud partner is a major decision. But performing due diligence during the vetting process can reduce many of the potential pain points down the line. By carefully considering a cloud provider’s reputation, security, technical offerings, and cost, healthcare organizations can make the right choice for their needs and establish a mutually beneficial relationship with a new cloud data partner.
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.