With advances in big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, healthcare is primed to innovate. However, in a world where HIPAA, GDPR, and other regulatory standards exist, healthcare organizations are often forced to pump the breaks and focus their efforts on staying compliant and keeping their infrastructures secure.

As any IT executive understands, safeguarding and protecting healthcare data is paramount, and moving too quickly or aggressively on a project can put privacy and compliance at risk. The problem is that some organizations are so cautious that they miss out on opportunities for their business, for the healthcare industry at large, and, most importantly, for patients who could benefit from technological advancements.

Is it possible for healthcare organizations to strike a balance between agility and compliance? With the right tools and partners in place, the answer is a resounding yes. This article outlines the risks and challenges IT leaders face as they weigh innovation against compliance, as well as strategies for finding a middle ground that benefits all stakeholders.

The Challenge

Healthcare is becoming an increasingly collaborative playing field. Payers and providers need to share data. Life sciences organizations are working across healthcare sectors. Consolidation and collaboration are becoming more commonplace and complex at the same time. Organizations are trying to break through problems to provide better patient experiences, accelerate translational medicine, and drive reduced cost and improved outcomes. More data is being collected and shared than ever before, creating a host of complex compliance challenges while also creating opportunities for more innovation.

Meanwhile, regulations remain stringent, and in some cases, new requirements are coming to the market as with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into effect in May of 2018. Training IT team members to stay up to date with myriad standards and regulations is a challenge in itself, and now some states are passing their own individual versions of citizen rights similar to GDPR’s “right to be forgotten.” This doesn’t even touch on the difficulties of expanding into global markets that have their own set of regulations that can vary by country.

Wrapped around these challenges are rising risks. Ransomware is a daily threat for IT professionals, and breaches are announced weekly on OCR’s “Wall of Shame.” Research also shows that most healthcare organizations aren’t meeting minimum security standards.

HealthcareITNews reported that 40% of staff lack security expertise and 39% are missing general knowledge of basic data protection.*

This means that the majority of healthcare organizations are not only putting sensitive patient data in harm’s way, they are also running the risk of enormous financial and legal penalties for failed audits or security breaches and non-compliance, and are potentially putting patients at harm.

The Path to Innovation

Navigating each of these challenges costs IT leaders an enormous amount of time, energy, and money, leaving little room for innovation or healthy disruption. However, healthcare is still a business, and for a business to flourish, innovation is necessary. This became very apparent during the pandemic when the need for digital innovation in healthcare significantly increased.

From a macro level, slowing down innovation in healthcare has a high cost. Lack of breakthroughs could potentially lead to more lives lost, fewer dollars saved, and patients and providers that don’t have access to technological advancements—all because companies are overly cautious with implementing new solutions. At the same time, if companies experiment recklessly, they are breaching their patients’ trust and putting personal information and patient health at risk.

Finding a balance is tough, but there are strategies IT teams can put in place to leave room for innovation without putting security or compliance at risk. The first step is closing in on any existing security gaps. Although most companies assume they have all of their bases covered, most don’t have an adequate risk management program, and a best practice for any healthcare organization is to comb through its entire IT infrastructure to ensure that all security and compliance standards are met. In most cases, this requires a third-party partner with deep security risk assessment and compliance expertise.

Another strategy is making the leap to cloud computing.

Moving to the cloud opens up a whole new door of possibilities for healthcare organizations to create new efficiencies, speed time to market, and potentially save on costs.

Simply eliminating the need to upgrade and maintain on-premise IT infrastructures immediately frees up IT resources and allows room for innovation. The cloud also allows companies to take advantage of machine learning capabilities with capacity that an on-premise infrastructure typically can’t offer, and it provides the ability to scale up or down as needed. Organizations can also save money and optimize costs by only paying for the services they actually use.

Of course, staying compliant in the cloud brings up a whole new set of challenges. While some companies take a “do-it-yourself’ approach and prefer to utilize the wide breadth of native cloud tools available, most still find it a challenge to use native APIs and remain confident they are operating in an environment that meets compliance frameworks and standards. From legal agreements and liability insurance to audit logs, intrusion detection, and patching of the operating system, most IT teams lack the time, personnel, or expertise needed to ensure full compliance on the cloud.

This is where a strategic partner can be the key that unlocks balancing your security and compliance with innovation. Finding a partner that has an extensive cloud, compliance, and security knowledge, as well as a platform, services, and solutions that help eliminate risk, can be a game-changer for healthcare organizations looking to innovate and move their products to the market quickly and safely. By working with a highly qualified, healthcare-exclusive cloud partner, your organization can work within security and compliance guardrails, while being free to explore, expand, and innovate in the cloud.

Compliance, Security, Collaboration, and the Cloud

There is no question that staying agile and innovative in an increasingly collaborative and regulated world is one of the largest business challenges facing healthcare organizations today. Compliance and security should always be the top concern. However, IT leaders who put the right strategies, partnerships, and tools in place can take an active role in making their organizations more agile and innovative, while keeping their infrastructures safe, secure, and scalable.