Leveraging the Cloud for Efficiency and Savings
Using the cloud for operation of systems and application software, and to provide backup and disaster recovery capabilities, can yield tremendous benefits related to efficiencies, routine control application, and cost savings for a healthcare organization.
A business intelligence program is only as good as the availability and security of the information that is being accessed and reviewed to support sound business decision making.
For organizations using outsourced technology groups (i.e., the cloud), one option that is increasingly being recommended is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a technology that hosts a desktop operating system on a centralized data server. VDI has many benefits for an organization related to commitment of resources, staffing, and enhanced security.
VDI comes in two methods—persistent and nonpersistent. The difference is that the desktop configuration remains intact after each logout with the persistent method, whereas with the nonpersistent method, the desktop reverts to the original state after each logout and must be reconfigured with each login.
As it relates to accounting and other application system hosting, the persistent approach is useful for users because the image and customization is consistent and can be saved for future use. Regarding electronic health record (EHR) system access, however, the nonpersistent approach is preferable because the previous search and history is not saved, which allows for an increased level of security when logging back into the system.
VDI allows an organization to redistribute dollars and support previously allocated for traditional onsite hardware and continued licensing of applications. Conventionally, onsite hardware and software require refreshing, on a periodic basis, through patches and replacement of items every five to seven years. Meanwhile, outsourcing for VDI offers a perceived benefit that hospitals and health systems are accustomed to considering with any technology outsourcing arrangement: the ability to pay a consistent amount monthly and pass the large ebbs and flows of technology purchasing to its partner organization.
Another generally considered advantage of the technology relates to staffing, given that staff no longer must be on site to access centralized information. This worksite flexibility gives hospitals and health systems an increased opportunity to identify the best candidates for positions from certified coders to medical record personnel, because location is not a factor.
Security features also are enhanced with VDI. With all information housed in a central location rather than on personal devices, the threat of a breach from a stolen laptop, smart phone, or tablet disappears. And with a nonpersistent VDI setup, information cannot be accessed without proper authorization.
Items to Consider With Cloud Technology
Because there is a massive amount of data being transferred between the local machine and the data center that houses the VDI and related servers, a healthcare organization’s broadband connection becomes its most important technology. A rural health system with poor internet access would have an impaired ability to use VDI technology because of the lag time of transferring information to a computer that resides at a remote location.
Moreover, as the amount of data transmitted and maintained using the technology increases, the cost of the service also increases. It therefore is important to weigh the cost and cost savings with the convenience and security of the information. It may be possible for a health system to split the technology so that only extremely confidential information (such as the database of an EHR application) is accessed through VDI.
Backup and Disaster Recovery
In the age of ransomware and other cybersecurity threats, it is essential for a healthcare organization to have a working backup of its data. More important, the data must be useful and fresh. Using the cloud for offsite storage removes the risk of losing the backup along with the working copy in the event of a virus or cyberattack.
Using a data center in another location and updating the data stored there on a regular basis (e.g., every 15 minutes or four times daily) ensures data are available, current, and secure. Often, the vendor that furnishes offsite storage of backups also has the capability for cloud computing, should the information need to be accessed in real time.
Although VDI technology is not new, it presents an as-yet untapped opportunity for many healthcare providers. The technology offers healthcare organizations compelling benefits that can make it an essential component of a well-conceived IT strategy. Whether or not an organization decides to pursue the opportunities presented by this technology—or is in a position to adopt it—its finance leaders should familiarize themselves with the technology. They should be aware of and understand all the factors that are important for organizations to consider in assessing the opportunities VDI presents, including all of its potential advantages and disadvantages.
Paul M. Perry, FHFMA, CITP, CISM, CPA, is a member with Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors, Birmingham, Ala., and a member of HFMA’s Alabama Chapter.