Protecting Patient Data Against Loss and Downtime: Is the Answer in the Cloud?

JANUARY 16TH, 2020

By: Oussama El-Hilali, CTO at Arcserve and Joe Goldberg, senior cloud practice manager at CCSI

Healthcare professionals rely on data for a myriad of critical information, such as the type of medicine the patient needs, history of illnesses and allergies, and their appointment history. With this wealth of ultra-sensitive personal data comes a need to keep it continuously accessible and safe at all times, especially since access to this information can quite literally mean life or death for patients. But, healthcare organizations are not immune to outages, be it an IT failure, system glitch, natural disaster or cyberattack. When systems go down and patient data is inaccessible, they need to be able to recover nearly instantaneously, and the cloud can enable them to do so.

The challenges faced today

Healthcare organizations are introducing new technologies in the workplace, as digital transformation is top of mind for IT managers. According to research, 56% of hospitals are implementing digital change to optimize the patient experience at a departmental or enterprise-wide level. As medical technology continues to advance and become more complex, the data that supports and enables that technology also grows in complexity. Legacy IT systems simply can’t keep up with these advancements and provide adequate support to things like AI-enhanced care for patients, or 3D-printed implants and prostheses.

While the need to upgrade IT to match the pace of innovation in patient care is evident, healthcare organizations often struggle to change how they store and protect data. Overhauling a hospital’s IT department would require an enormous amount of buy-in and transformation to a system that both patients and doctors rely on every single day. However, it doesn’t need to be as complicated as they think it is, as there are technologies available that enable a smooth transition to the cloud, and prevent organizations from having to make significant investments in hardware to rebuild and modernize their IT infrastructure.

Meeting these challenges

Healthcare IT professionals do have options at their disposal to take care of their data availability needs. Public clouds offered through third-party vendors like Microsoft and Amazon are resilient and can defend against downtime or system failure because they need to remain widely available to a swath of customers, and can keep high volumes of data protected against outages. Private clouds can offer the same type of resiliency and protection, but with the added benefit of it being managed within an organization, rather than through another provider.

The potential pitfalls with these options are cost and reliability. Public clouds can rack up expensive fees for accessing or moving data, and can inhibit an organization’s ability to meet service level agreements if they experience network latency when restoring data. If an organization is using an on-premises private cloud as opposed to a hosted private cloud, they would also need to invest in hardware for their data center, and may limit offsite recovery options if something were to happen to the location where cloud operations were running from.

Look to hybrid solutions for the answer

Instead, IT professionals are increasingly turning to hybrid cloud strategies to keep patient data safe. A recent survey of over 2,000 IT decision makers revealed that deployments of hybrid cloud solutions in the healthcare industry are expected to jump from 19% to 37% in just two years.

What’s the reasoning for this?

First, many organizations are leveraging hybrid cloud to help rein in the high costs that companies sometimes run into with public cloud spending, as it enables them to decide where to store business- and mission-critical data based on what makes the most sense from a disaster recovery standpoint. For example, it’s efficient to use onsite recovery for single-system issues like system crashes or hardware failures. But, offsite DR is critical for data catastrophes such as natural disasters or other instances where patient data could be inaccessible for the long haul.

When deployed with a hosted private cloud, hybrid cloud strategies can also reduce the investment organizations need to make if they want an offsite disaster recovery option, as they don’t need to make hardware investments and maintain secondary physical sites. Further, data and applications can move freely between cloud and local on-premises environments. The data redundancy offered through having multiple backup sites like this gives IT teams a safety net if a server goes down due to an IT error or power outage.

Hospitals must operate at full capacity, 24/7, which takes careful planning and mapping out of which workloads and applications need to be stored to protect against downtime and loss of critical patient information. While there are a variety of cloud strategies to evaluate and consider, hybrid cloud allows healthcare IT teams to rein in storage costs and enable digital transformation, all while making data loss a problem of the past.