According to a new study by health IT research firm HIMSS Analytics, healthcare organizations are increasingly utilizing cloud services to help meet their IT needs and lower costs.

With the increase of regulations over data handling put in place by federal programs like the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, healthcare organizations were some of the first to implement private cloud platforms. More dramatic repercussions and heavier fines have caused healthcare providers to find ways to not only protect patient information, but cut costs and simplify archiving processes.

"Cloud services have been long praised as a tool to reduce operating expenses for healthcare organizations. The data presented in our inaugural survey demonstrates the healthcare industry's eagerness to leverage the resource," said vice president of market research for HIMSS Analytics, Lorren Pettit.

Applications, disaster recovery big draw
The study, which included 150 health IT professionals and hospital CIOs, found that 83 percent of organizations use some type of cloud service. The top three reasons for employing a cloud solution are speed of deployment, lower maintenance costs and lack of internal staffing resources.

The biggest use of the cloud was for hosting applications, with 86 percent of respondents utilizing this service. The most common were clinical and HR apps, as well as those for accessing health information exchanges.

The second largest use was tied between disaster recovery and data storage, each with 79 percent of organizations. Rounding out the top three was data archiving, with 77 percent of organizations employing the service.

When asked what factors made them choose the cloud, almost 64 percent of those surveyed said that the physical and technical security the platform provided was the main reason. The second most common factor was the ability to meet healthcare compliance standards, with 60 percent of participants. When asked if adopting a cloud solution presented any challenges to their organization, 38 percent of respondents said there were none.

"The future of cloud services is positive, especially among those healthcare organizations that already use cloud services," wrote the authors of the study. "Nearly all of the healthcare organizations presently using cloud services reported plans to expand use of cloud services in the future."

Organizations turn to cloud for future growth
The report found that, looking to the future, healthcare providers will be searching in similar areas they can implement a cloud strategy. The most common area organizations plan on using cloud services is for hosting archived data, but operational applications and disaster recovery solutions followed close behind.

"In this context, the majority of healthcare organizations reported plans to transition additional data and/or functionality to cloud services," explained the report's authors. "This suggests that when a healthcare organization takes the first step to implement and adopt cloud services, the healthcare organization is already considering expanding their use of cloud services as the healthcare organization gains confidence with hosting data and/or functionality in the cloud."