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Accelerating Cloud Adoption in Public Healthcare in Asia Pacific

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A medical worker looking at an X-ray scans on a computer screen.
The cloud offers healthcare providers the agility to evolve rapidly, innovate, and reduce complexity in a scalable and cost-effective way. Photo credit: ADB

This story is published in collaboration with Amazon Web Services Institute.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic completely catalyzed how the healthcare industry uses technology. Healthcare organizations turned to the cloud to quickly adapt to the pandemic’s disruption, driving innovation in telemedicine, digital health, medical research, and clinical care. New technologies that had previously taken years to develop were completed and launched in days and weeks using the cloud. With the accelerated gains made in the last 2 years, the healthcare industry in Asia Pacific and Japan can harness this momentum of digitization to address issues beyond the pandemic, like aging populations, increasing chronic disease prevalence, and the rising cost of healthcare.

To better understand the challenges and opportunities in digital healthcare adoption, think tank ACCESS Health International and Amazon Web Services (AWS) thought leadership and executive education program for public sector executives AWS Institute interviewed 39 policymakers, healthcare chief information officers (CIOs), chief medical informatics officers (CMIOs), and digital health experts in order to understand government and industry perspectives on cloud adoption for public healthcare. The findings are presented in the Overcoming Barriers to Cloud Adoption in Public Healthcare in the Asia-Pacific report, released by AWS and ACCESS Health.

The research, conducted in Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Viet Nam shows that government and healthcare leaders have an incredible opportunity to unleash further innovation in the healthcare industry by following three key steps: create clarity on cloud data governance regulations, develop strong cloud-first policies, and prioritize cloud skills training across the region.

Establishing clarity in healthcare data governance and a cloud-first policy

The cloud offers healthcare providers the agility to evolve rapidly, innovate, and reduce complexity in a scalable and cost-effective way. To set the path for a successful digitization journey, the report recommends that governments provide guidance for a policy framework that gives clear direction to healthcare institutions and cloud solution providers that can assist with building compliant and secure healthcare technology solutions.

The first step is establishing a cloud-first policy that specifically applies to healthcare data. Where there are existing government cloud-first policies, it should be explicitly stated that these also cover healthcare data workloads. A central digital health authority that prioritizes using cloud-based technology solutions over other IT solutions can provide a clear transformation roadmap that allows healthcare organizations to optimize infrastructure costs and access scalable IT resources while building a connected healthcare ecosystem. A great example of this comes from the UK National Health Service (NHS) Digital, whose architecture principles outline that “digital services should move to the public cloud unless there is a clear reason not to do so.” AWS has identified a set of best practices to support governments as they make the transition to a cloud-first environment.

Next, the report recommends that governments consider using a range of policy tools to enhance the digital health data ecosystem, in particular clear and accountable data governance policies. This involves implementing principles and risk-based regulatory frameworks, with clear and consistent standards that are based on internationally recognized standards, a focus on outcomes, and guidance on how they can be applied to healthcare data. Such frameworks are particularly important as they give confidence to healthcare institutions, providers, and patients to use digital and cloud-based solutions. For countries with national data security and privacy regulations already in place, policymakers can accelerate innovation with more clarity and proactive guidance on how such regulations apply to healthcare data. The report also recommends that healthcare agencies create a patient-centered, connected healthcare system by establishing policy frameworks with open standards for secure data interoperability and data exchange that allow IT systems and services to create, exchange, and consume healthcare data securely.

Other policy tools that governments can tap to realize the full potential of the cloud include digital transformation incentive measures, and clear cloud procurement policies. Governments can also consider designing policies to boost digital health innovation—such as startup-friendly procurement policies and financing models, and support networks for startups in collaboration with the private sector—to foster a mature digital health system.

Closing the digital skills gap in healthcare

To complement the cloud-first policy and digitization roadmap, the report recommends a need for healthcare workers across all levels, in technical and non-technical roles, to fully understand the benefits of digitization and have the skills to leverage the cloud. The report shows that the general understanding of cloud services in the healthcare industry is limited, impacting the adoption of cloud services across the region’s health systems. Respondents also cited the perceived cost of cloud migration in terms of planning, implementation, and the training of IT staff and clinicians as a major barrier for public healthcare organizations with already strained budgets.

To enable transformative innovation across the healthcare sector, governments need to work with industry to implement educational programs and training to upskill the workforce and to design and build human-centric digital health applications. To accelerate the digitization drive, governments should empower a designated body to boost capacity building and drive digital initiatives in partnership with the private sector. Training in cloud technology can also improve organizational efficiency. A survey of AWS customers found that 90% of organizations that employed AWS Certified staff saw an increase in productivity, while 86% reported improved security of cloud workloads after their staff became AWS Certified.

Understanding the benefits and security capabilities of the cloud

Research respondents in the report also shared that due a lack of awareness or understanding of the cloud, policymakers and healthcare leaders have misperceptions around security and the privacy of cloud-based data. The cloud is secure, and can open up opportunities for digital transformation for healthcare systems in Asia Pacific and Japan. Increased cloud skills training can help to address this gap in understanding the benefits and security capabilities of the cloud.

AWS is focused on the security needs of its customers, including the healthcare sector, in every location in which it operates. This includes achieving global certifications and local accreditations (such as Information Security Registered Assessors Program, or IRAP PROTECTED in Australia, and Information System Security Management and Assessment Program, or ISMAP in Japan) that provide comprehensive reliability, security, and data privacy. AWS provides customers with the ability to securely store, manage, and manipulate large health data sets, which has been vital for advancing medical research and the growing need for quality health analytics.

AWS supports healthcare organizations globally by providing the technology needed to move at the speed necessary to have an impact—from using medical-data sharing to diagnose previously unknown diseases, identifying new viruses to prevent another pandemic, to distributing and managing vaccinations, and many other critical functions—all while enabling customers to meet the highest security and compliance requirements.

A strong collaboration between governments and the private sector can smooth the journey to the cloud for public healthcare. Together, the public sector and private organizations can propel wider cloud adoption and unleash even more innovation by better educating the public, training workers, and implementing digital strategies that leverage cloud technology for the good of all citizens. The lessons we have learned from rapid digitization during the pandemic can provide incredible opportunities to harness this momentum and take immediate action to help the healthcare industry continue to transform.

Quint Simon, Head of Public Policy, Asia Pacific and Japan, Amazon Web Service

Quint Simon serves as head of public policy for Asia Pacific and Japan at Amazon Web Services (AWS). In this capacity, she leads AWS’s engagements with policymakers and regulators across the Asia Pacific on policy issues related to the adoption of cloud computing and emerging technologies. She is co-chair of the Asia Cloud Computing Association and has deep expertise in cross-border data flows, cybersecurity, privacy and data protection, and digital trade.

Simeen Mirza, Senior Consultant, ACCESS Health International

Simeen Mirza leads consulting and research projects on health technology innovation, health financing, and service model transformation at ACCESS Health. She comes from a finance background having spent the early years of her career in financial advisory and consulting at Deloitte and later, Cognizant Business Consulting. Prior to joining ACCESS Health, Simeen worked as an independent market research and strategy consultant to governments, development agencies, and private firms.

This article was first published by AWS on 20 February 2022.

Deploying digital solutions like the cloud to help countries build back better in the wake of COVID-19 was one of the topics discussed during #SEADS2022 on 16–17 March. Watch the recordings.