Cloud in healthcare: What is holding up adoption?

In this guest post, Darren Turner, general manager at healthcare-focused hosting provider Carelink, takes a look at why the healthcare sector has been slow to adopt cloud, and how NHS Digital’s burgeoning Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) could help speed things up.

With the NHS facing an estimated funding gap of £30bn by 2020, there is immense pressure on the health service to increase operational efficiency and cut costs.

Against this backdrop, one could make the argument that ramping up its use of cloud could help the NHS achieve some of these savings. However, research suggests – compared to other public sector organisations – the health service has been slow to adopt off-premise technologies.

So why has healthcare been slower than other sectors to embrace cloud?

Part of the reason can be traced back to the perceived security risks, particularly when it comes to public cloud providers, and constraints around location and sharing of Patient Identifiable Data (PID).

There is also, I think, a lack of trust in cloud performance and resilience, as well as concerns around the physical location of hardware. Furthermore, there is a shortage of the right skills, willingness to embrace the necessary cultural shift and the budget to cover the cost of migration.

Perhaps it’s the government’s cloud-first policy that presents the biggest hurdle. Introduced in May 2013, it advises all central government departments to prioritise the purchasing of cloud technologies over on-premise software and hardware during the procurement process.

Outside of central government, no mandate for adopting a cloud-first policy exists for local authorities or public sector healthcare providers, for example. Instead, they are merely “strongly advised” to adopt a similar thought process during procurements.

Even so, it could be argued that healthcare providers are feeling the pressure to put everything in the cloud or that public cloud is the only option, but that needn’t be the case. Instead, they should work with a trusted and technology agnostic supplier to identify the best solution or combination for their organisation’s specific needs.

Hybrid services for healthcare providers

While there are no hard and fast rules, at present we find a common approach among healthcare providers is to favour a hybrid architecture, where hardware servers hosting legacy or resource hungry applications are mixed with virtual machines running less intensive services on the cloud.

With a hybrid approach, organisations can realise the efficiencies of virtualisation, through increased utilisation of compute resources, while being able to more closely control the availability of those resources across the estate.

For larger estates, particularly those with high storage volumes, the cost of a private cloud platform can compare favourably to the cost of a hyperscale public cloud.

Healthcare providers should, therefore, work with their network and infrastructure supplier to explore this cost comparison to ensure they get the best value for their money.

Whether opting for private or public cloud, multi-cloud or a hybrid offering, when it comes to entrusting a supplier with an incredibly valuable and irreplaceable asset – data – healthcare providers need to be sure it’s secure.

Buyers should seek accredited suppliers with a proven track record in providing secure solutions and protecting mission critical environments, ideally in a healthcare environment.

Driving healthcare cloud adoption

The rollout of NHS Digital’s Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), the data network for health and social organisations that replaces N3, could spur cloud adoption in some parts of the health care sector, as it could make services easier to provision.

Health and social care organisations will increasingly be able to access a full range of HSCN compliant network connectivity and cloud services from one supplier, simplifying the procurement process.

With assurance that HSCN obligations and standards have been met, this will likely drive greater adoption of cloud services in the sector.

Indeed, we’re seeing cloud providers – ranging from the SME to hyperscale – setting up healthcare divisions and actively seeking suppliers to deliver HSCN connectivity.

Furthermore, HSCN could actually be the catalyst for driving cloud adoption as multi-agency collaboration develops, paving the way for healthcare organisations to deliver a more joined-up health and social care experience for the general public.