Why some healthcare companies are moving to G Suite

Tony Safoian of SADA Systems and Casey Bryson of Hurley Medical Center discuss their experience of moving healthcare organizations to G Suite.

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In healthcare, the time of cloud concerns has passed. As recently as a few years ago, many IT decision makers in hospitals, health clinics, and doctors' offices preferred on-site systems--these administrators preferred a server they could see to a cloud solution out of their control.

But this "anti-cloud orientation" among healthcare leaders has changed in recent years, says Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a leading cloud consulting services company. His company has helped many hospitals and healthcare organizations make the move from on-premise systems to cloud solutions.

Three factors--security, cost, and culture--have motivated IT healthcare leaders to move systems to the cloud, says Safoian. "Now, people recognize that Google can do a better job of data protection and security than most healthcare organizations." The expertise and scale of Google's security teams easily exceed that of healthcare IT security staff at any given hospital system, for example. Cloud providers also offer lower total cost of ownership for IT systems, which enables a CIO to shift funds to strategic investments; that helps, since "healthcare organizations are under a lot of cost pressure." Cloud solutions enable mobility, which fits healthcare cultures well, since "many jobs in healthcare providers are mobile by nature," says Safoian.

SEE: Industry Cloud: Adoption, plans, decision factors, strategic results (Tech Pro Research)

Casey Bryson, Chief Information Officer at Hurley Medical Center, "Michigan's first hospital powered by Google," would agree. Hurley Medical Center switched to G Suite from an on-premise system in early 2018 with the help of another cloud consulting services company, Onix. It helped that Google would sign a Business Associate Agreement, which is important for organizations that need to comply with HIPAA.

Hurley moved more than 3,700 people to G Suite over four months. The IT team switched first, followed by another 200 people soon after. They quickly moved the remaining accounts after that, says Bryson.


Casey Bryson, Chief Information Officer of Hurley Medical Center

Photo provided by Casey Bryson

That transition time is typical for a move to G Suite, says Safoian. "We typically move any size customer to G Suite within 4 to 6 months. With Lahey [another hospital system], they had other agreements that were expiring, so we moved them to Google in 91 days." A longer transition period doesn't help, says Safoian, since it "just means a longer time when you have co-existence of systems, and also produces a lack of inertia and focus."

A switch to G Suite enables all sorts of relatively straight-forward collaborations. At Hurley, for example, Google Forms replaced many paper surveys--people share and respond with a link, says Bryson. Every meeting now gets a Google Doc, which helps with project management and follow-up. "You can get notifications when people edit a document," says Bryson, "so you know that people have read responses and are acting on information."

Another benefit of the switch to G Suite is what a hospital doesn't have to buy. With Google Drive, Hurley Medical Center no longer needed to pay for separate third-party storage. "We also didn't have to buy Slack, since Hangouts Chat was released," says Bryson. "Even though it wasn't part of the service when we signed up, we automatically got access to Hangouts Chat when Google launched it."

SEE: G Suite: Tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But "the big transformation isn't email," says Bryson; "it's all of the other integrations, notifications, and changes to business processes." For example, a supervisor used to schedule therapists, print out a schedule, then someone would have to handwrite the schedule on a whiteboard hung in a hall. With G Suite, that process changed; now, the supervisor enters schedules in a Google Sheet. Bryson quickly wrote a mini-app to display that Google Sheet data on a large-screen display. The schedule for the next day now automatically updates at 4:00pm each day. No more printing, and no more walking down the hall, erasing, and rewriting when the schedule changes.


Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a leading cloud consulting services company

Photo provided by Tony Safoian

The move to the cloud also changes the work of the IT team and cloud consultants. "The majority of our work used to be technical," says Safoian, while drawing a large circle on a dry erase board, and marking a wedge in the circle that makes it resemble Pac-Man, "with some project management and and change management." Safoian draws another circle, with lines that divide the circle into three, relatively evenly sized parts. "Now, only about 30% of a project is technical, about 40% is project execution, and the rest is change management and adoption."

G Suite adoption also makes a move to Chrome and Chrome OS possible, says Safoian. Compared to a conventional laptop, a Chrome OS device is often "less expensive, costs less to maintain, and is more secure, since G Suite manages everything down to the endpoint."

But adoption of Chrome devices has been slowed in healthcare by electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) systems that haven't yet moved to browser-based solutions. Safoian says, "Some customers use desktop virtualization, such as Citrix, to access these systems."

At Hurley Medical Center, Bryson has deployed about 20 Chromebooks, about half of which are used by case managers who use the devices as they roam the hospital. Additional use is limited, though, as the IT team works through device and driver issues. The hospital's existing EMR tap-badge authentication system, for example, doesn't yet work on Chrome OS. And, consistent with Safoian's experience, the EMR system at Hurley isn't yet updated for web-browser use.

Increased adoption of G Suite has prompted another challenge at Hurley Medical Center. Many of the physicians who work at Hurley are also affiliated with another G Suite customer nearby, the University of Michigan. One limitation of mobile device management at the moment is that you can only have one organization's device management policy deployed per mobile phone. So a physician who wants secure access to data will need to choose which organization will be allowed to manage their smartphone.

SEE: The NHS and technology: How innovation is revolutionizing healthcare (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In the future, a move to Google Cloud and G Suite may enable other significant changes. Support for Voice is in the works, says Safoian, where G Suite can also serve as the phone system (PBX) for an organization. He also expects to see increased Chrome and Chrome OS, longer term.

At Hurley Medical Center, Bryson and a team from Onix are already working to deliver data-based insights to clinicians faster. The project, called "Big Data/Big Query," takes data from the organization's neonatal intensive care unit systems and moves it to Google Cloud Platform. Historically, it has taken 24 hours to run a query and report, and even longer for the extraction, transformation, and loading of the data; the hope is that the use of Google Cloud Platform will dramatically reduce these cycle times and improve timely discoveries and patient interventions.

As healthcare organizations continue to desire state-of-the-art security, and seek to enable increased collaboration and greater mobility, expect to see more organizations make the move to the cloud. Months after the move, the Hurley Medical Center IT team still feels good about their switch from their on-premise system to G Suite. "It was the right thing to do," says Bryson.

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Illustration of a hospital (with red cross on left tower, G Suite in middle tower, and word "Hospital" above long-horizontal wing
Illustration: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic