Virtustream Blog

Healthcare’s Home in the Cloud


in Compliance, Security, Cloud

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By Dave Henry, Technical Product Marketing, Virtustream, @davemhenry

Virtustream recently announced a Virtustream Healthcare Cloud that provides cloud-based hosting of mission-critical healthcare platforms and applications in an environment built to meet their specific needs. Designed with electronic medical record (EMR) applications in mind, Virtustream Healthcare Cloud is a specially-tuned offering within the Virtustream Enterprise Cloud that is ideal for any healthcare-related application.

What’s Causing Healthcare to Consider Cloud Adoption

In the past, it would be difficult to imagine a healthcare organization even thinking about hosting their applications or data anywhere other than in their own on-site data center. Today, however, there are several reasons that make a cloud-based solution a better option, including:

A Move to New Service Models: To increase the quality of patient care, many healthcare organizations are adopting new models for providing service. Patients can retrieve their test results from a secure web portal. Appointments can be scheduled online. Mobile applications are becoming more common. Applications enable diabetes patients and home dialysis patients, for example, to upload their vitals to their doctor’s office, and there are a growing number of wellness-centered applications. More hospitals and doctors’ offices run virtual desktops on mobile devices, greatly improving responsiveness and the quality of their patients’ experience. The cloud provides the best way to serve mobile applications.

Agility: The agility gained through cloud adoption comes in many forms. Financially, it allows shifting of IT budgets from capital to operational expenses. For deployment, it allows for faster roll-out and shorter time-to-value for new services. From a workload perspective, having services hosted in the cloud allows for automatic scale-up and scale-down in response to real-time increases and decreases in service demand.

Retention Requirements: Originally, healthcare organizations kept records for the life of the patient. Later, saving records for seven years after the patient’s death became common, and more recently, keeping records for 25 or more years after the patient’s death. For research purposes, if patient records can be anonymized by removing any personally identifiable information (PII) from them, a “keep forever” policy is becoming standard. It’s easy to see how these requirements could cause local storage to grow beyond an organization’s ability to manage it easily.

Scale: It’s not just retention requirements that are driving data growth. Now that images from X-ray machines, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are taken digitally, care providers are more likely to take multiple images as there are no concerns about wasting film. Advancements in imaging technology also cause an increase in storage. An image that can provide twice the amount of detail typically takes up to four times the space. Again, it’s easy to see how data growth can put a strain on infrastructure.

Cost Reduction: Like all other organizations, healthcare providers are looking to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. In effect, to deliver the best service to their patients, they’re looking to provide the most IT services they can with the least amount of resources possible. To meet efficiency goals, the IT services need to be able to scale and to respond quickly. 

Healthcare-specific Requirements

Let’s take a look at the requirements for healthcare applications and infrastructure.

Security and Compliance: Above and beyond the obvious concerns for their patients’ privacy, healthcare organizations need to know that their applications and data are extremely secure. Patient records contain protected health information (PHI) that must be secured. Additionally, healthcare organizations need to be prepared to prove to an auditor that they’re in full compliance with all relevant rules and regulations, especially the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

Virtustream applies rigorous defense-in-depth throughout the entire infrastructure to help ensure security. Many cloud providers allow customers to run compliant workloads, but make the customer responsible for ensuring that compliance. Virtustream Healthcare Cloud provides a fully HIPAA- and HITECH-compliant environment for healthcare platforms and applications.

Reliability: Healthcare personnel depend on these applications and their data to perform their jobs. When doing your job can mean the difference between life and death, anything you depend on needs to work. In an IT context, we usually equate reliability with uptime. While that’s obviously hugely important to healthcare providers, there’s another, just as important, aspect of it. Healthcare professionals need to know that any data provided to them has been kept – and is delivered – exactly as it was initially stored. A loss of data from a patient’s record – or incorrect data in it - could not only cause trouble for the patient, but it could also lead to fines or a lawsuit against the healthcare provider for being out of compliance.

Virtustream offers different Service Level Agreements (SLAs), up to 99.999% uptime, covering any or all of the cloud infrastructure, the desktop access applications, and in this initial release, the EMR database itself. All storage within the Virtustream infrastructure runs regular error-correction checks to ensure the integrity of all data.

High Performance: It’s easy to imagine times when retrieving patient data quickly can be important, with the emergency room and intensive care units being obvious examples. Less obvious perhaps, but also important, is how performance can affect the quality of a patient’s experience. If diagnostic results can be made available to the patient and doctors within hours instead of days, the patient will not only be happier and feel well-cared for, it might reduce the length of some hospital stays.

Virtustream has an infrastructure built for high-performance mission-critical applications, including high-speed links from multiple network carriers in each of our data centers.

Hybrid Service Models for Healthcare

As is only fitting for the cloud, Virtustream offers a choose-your-own menu of managed services that span both healthcare providers’ sites and the Virtustream cloud. I think of it as hybrid services for the hybrid cloud.

At the most basic, Virtustream provides managed services for the underlying Virtustream Enterprise Cloud. This includes management of all infrastructure, meeting service-level agreements (SLAs), our defense-in-depth data security, full HIPAA and HITECH compliance, and our patented µVM (MicroVM) model which offers billing based on the resources you actually use.

Customers also have the option of having Virtustream manage the computing platform that serves their Citrix XenDesktop or VMware Horizon View for their published applications.

Lastly, customers can choose Virtustream Managed EMR Platform Service, which includes managed services for the Virtustream Enterprise Cloud, the desktop application delivery, and the customer’s EMR system database.

As you can see, the Virtustream Healthcare Cloud, built upon the Virtustream Enterprise Cloud, is an ideal platform for healthcare organizations that are ready for, or are considering, a move to the cloud. Combine our cloud offering with our flexible portfolio of enterprise-class managed services, and we can give healthcare organizations what they need to improve patients’ experiences while reducing costs.