As healthcare providers continue to work toward the mandatory transition from physical to electronic health records, many groups are turning to the cloud for data storage solutions.

According to a recent report by HIMSS Analytics, 83 percent of healthcare organizations use the cloud to store EHR information or other data. Of the providers already using the cloud, almost all of them are planning to expand their use, and 66 percent of organizations without a cloud platform expect to implement one soon. Healthcare groups mainly utilize the cloud for storage, but hosting operational applications, connecting to health information exchanges and disaster recovery are other popular uses.

More healthcare providers are now turning to the cloud in part because of the increasingly common occurrence of devices with patient records being lost or stolen. Regulatory compliance guidelines are growing stricter on the fines levied against organizations that lose patient information, making the cloud a favorable alternative to physical hard drives or USB devices.

"If you look at the stories that come up about data breaches in healthcare, it's almost always the loss or theft of portable media and you don't know in most cases if the data was actually ever breached or if whoever ended up with that machine knew that there was protected health information on it," said Dan Haley, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Athena Health. "But once it's out of the care of the custodian, it's been breached. That's obviously a benefit of the cloud. That information is not stored on portable media-it's accessed by it."

Providers find greater security with cloud
The HIMSS study also found that a major factor in healthcare providers' decision to implement a cloud solution was concern about physical and technical security of the platform, leading 75 percent of organizations to prefer a private cloud infrastructure.

Private cloud platforms are a reliable, secure storage solution for healthcare organizations because cloud service providers are solely focused on the security of the data in their servers, whereas security is just one aspect of the many things healthcare IT departments have to deal with each day.

"If you compare that – the entire team of professionals who are responsible only for [data security] – with the status quo in a medical group where all of their data is stored on a central server that's protected by business-grade software, it's orders of magnitude different," said Haley. "Just as the cloud brings orders of magnitude scalability difference to how we handle, disseminate and coordinate information, it also brings orders of magnitude scalable difference to the attention that's paid to the security of that information."

Organizations implementing a private cloud platform can specify levels of security and privacy, as well as utilizing tiered data storage to ensure compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. The likelihood of patient data being compromised is greatly reduced because a provider's information is stored by itself on the organization's dedicated server.