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Is visibility the key to unlocking the cloud in healthcare?

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Cloud services can optimise systems for improved clinician and patient experience while addressing vulnerabilities and threats.

Healthcare has been slower to migrate to the cloud compared to other industries. An assumption may point toward fear, lack of will and inadequate resources, but the reality of the slow progress is that this is due to the complex and opaque nature of the medical IT system. Therefore, real-time visualisation of these systems may be the key to unlocking the cloud in healthcare.

In the UAE, digital technologies are slowly but steadily changing medical education and healthcare delivery. For example, the Thumbay Group, which operates hospitals, pharmacies, and a medical college in the UAE, uses augmented and virtual realities to give students a realistic situated learning experience. Its flexibility enhances training and can lead to better outcomes in patient care.

Address system complexity and interdependencies

Healthcare organisations are incredibly complex. Clinicians catering to patients depend on applications that rely on technology infrastructure, which must be maintained by staff that follow specific workflows. That is a lot of interdependencies between people, workflows, and IT systems.

There are very few industries with as many overlapping and interdependent IT systems as healthcare. Every healthcare organisation has a myriad of applications that have been layered on top of one another over the years. There is rarely any documentation of how applications interact with the organisation’s technology infrastructure and other applications.

It is my belief that system complexity coupled with the lack of understanding of how those systems interact (aka degree of opacity) is one of the biggest impediments to the adoption of the cloud in healthcare.

Most clinical applications fall into two categories — highly complex (a lot of interdependencies and connections) and highly opaque (not well understood in the context of other applications). Therefore, it is not surprising that healthcare IT leaders have not pushed for the migration of these applications to the cloud.

Instead, they have focused on applications such as HR, payroll, building maintenance, marketing automation, project management, and help desk. These systems have fewer connections and are better understood, making them better candidates for migrating to the cloud.

To migrate highly complex applications, IT leaders can decrease the application’s complexity by refactoring or simplifying it. Regarding the application’s opacity, organisations need to start by better understanding its interdependencies and connections to other systems. In other words, increasing the visibility of the application and service delivery.

Create system visibility for optimised performance

System visibility is really important for three reasons. Firstly, for laying the groundwork, visibility is critical to building a complete understanding of existing applications so that it is clear which workloads can be migrated as lift-and-shift versus refactor.

Secondly, regarding the transition to the cloud, visibility across a hybrid cloud environment is vital to ensuring the performance and security of the new cloud-based applications and existing on-premise ones.

Lastly, for deploying and operating cloud services, visibility is needed not only to help optimise systems to improve clinician and patient experience, but also to investigate vulnerabilities and threats.

Analyse traffic data

Another way to achieve system visibility is by analysing traffic data. This type of data represents every action and transaction in the infrastructure, and it is a robust data source that can guide the migration to the cloud.

During the cloud migration, traffic data can be useful in determining whether the newly migrated application has been properly reconnected to existing systems that were dependent on it. The metadata derived from traffic data could also be used to ensure that the information flowing between the premises and the cloud is being transferred securely.

After the migration is complete, traffic data can help maintain the clinical and patient experience. Nothing erodes trust in a new system more than performance issues do. If an application performs worse than before or in unexpected ways after migrating to the cloud, it will weaken energy from the organisation, and future cloud migrations may become more difficult.

Accelerating digital transformation with confidence

It is important to note that system visibility means more than traffic data. That data is just one of many ways to gain visibility. To improve visibility, organisations will need tooling and instrumentation.

Visibility is key to unlocking the cloud value and accelerating digital transformation with confidence. With visibility into their internal systems, IT leaders at healthcare organisations can make rational, evidence-based decisions. What was vague and unknown before can suddenly become clear. That clarity leads to prudent decision-making, and it is critical for cloud migrations.
 

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Emad Fahmy is the Systems Engineering Manager, Middle East, NETSCOUT.

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