Health data in the cloud: three key questions for your organization

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Whether you’re developing new drug therapies, trying to learn new insights about your patients or your organization, or comparing treatment options, health data in the cloud is an exciting concept and something we’ve been looking for in healthcare for a long time.

However, with technology rapidly changing and growing, adopting it is a daunting prospect for many healthcare organizations that need to follow compliance regulations and ensure data security. The good news is that it is possible to achieve HIPAA compliance while also implementing cloud technologies to store and utilize health data to make smarter decisions.

Here are the three key questions you should be thinking about as you’re looking to bring your organization’s health data into the cloud:

How big is your data estate?

The answer typically is, “it’s big…really, really big.” However, it’s less about the size of the data estate and more about whether it’s being managed efficiently or cost-effectively. You want your data to work for you, so this is an opportunity to get it organized and make it agile.

Once you have your data in the cloud, a huge host of tools become available to you for business intelligence and machine learning algorithms. Plus, the access that people have to healthcare is only about 20 percent of the story. Other socioeconomic factors will need consideration: where somebody lives, the air quality around them, their income levels, job status, health behaviors that they have, etc. With all this data coming into our healthcare systems, there’s a lot to plan for especially as you look at what types of inferences to make so you can build your architecture correctly.

What are the new regulatory requirements?

For healthcare data in the cloud, the industry standard is the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR).  FHIR has become a regulatory requirement in the United States, with the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health requiring the use of FHIR for data exchange beginning in December 2020 so this is something you should already be planning for.

FHIR is an open-source framework for data, which is important because healthcare is not static and continues to evolve and change. How you’re going to integrate FHIR APIs should influence how you think about building your data estate and migrating data into the cloud.

As we look at building technology for the healthcare industry, we want to be proactive and make sure that as these regulatory actions spread, we’re ready to help you support them. The data needs to be agile, and we need to expose it and share it in new, secure ways.

How do you want to leverage your data?

How you bring your data into the cloud matters. When you think about the overall architecture of how you want to engineer your data, you need to think about Personal Health Information (PHI) data sets, non-PHI data sets, and operational workloads that you might want to leverage and plan for all of it. The goal is not to keep creating new data centers or bring the same paradigm of silos of data in the cloud ecosystem. Some of the questions you want to ask yourself are:

  • How are you running your facilities?
  • Where is the data going when you need to share it?
  • Are you integrating in a way that also serves patient needs?

Your data engineering team should have the fastest and most efficient tools at their fingertips to manage big data workloads. The cloud offers an amazing amount of technology benefits for any healthcare organization, so choosing a cloud that’s already integrated with FHIR makes sense. Your PHI data needs to be handled differently in the cloud, and when FHIR is built-in, it gives you that trust and control that you need. This saves you time and money from having to build it yourself, and with Azure, you’re working in a cloud you know you can trust.

At Microsoft, that’s the most important part of health.

To learn more about Azure for Health and health data in the cloud, check out the Azure API for FHIR webpage, or visit Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare.

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