eHealth Saskatchewan revvs-up hybrid cloud
May 2, 2016
REGINA – eHealth Saskatchewan has begun activating a hybrid cloud, an integrated mixture of private and public cloud technologies.
A high-powered private cloud will consolidate the data centres that are running in the province’s 13 health districts, making the delivery of computer services much more efficient. At the same time, the enhanced abilities of the cloud will improve access to information for authorized doctors, nurses and other clinicians.
Meanwhile, the province is also testing the use of a public cloud, called the Citizen Health Information Portal (CHIP). This system allows patients to track a portion of their electronic health record and to upload various kinds of information – such as results from tests and encounters in clinics and labs.
“We’re working to achieve a balance between the two clouds,” said Wilbour Craddock, VP of Information Technology at eHealth Saskatchewan. “We’re providing a web front-end that allows patients to update their information and upload information like blood glucose results, calorie intake, and other important data.”
CHIP also allows members of the public to see the results of their lab tests, hospital visits, immunizations and pharmacy records, all in a secure manner.
The public cloud is currently a pilot project that will enrol about 1,000 patients and will run for six to eight months. At that point, eHealth Saskatchewan will conduct an evaluation to see which features are most used, what more is needed, and, generally, how it can be optimized.
In future, additional public clouds from top-tier vendors like Microsoft and Amazon could be tied to the system.
eHealth Saskatchewan has worked with its key data-centre vendor, EMC, to implement technology that will allow various systems to be integrated in a secure manner.
“We were early into our thinking on this, and built a data centre that supports modern healthcare users,” said David Dimond, Chief Technology Officer for EMC’s Global Healthcare Business. “There is enormous growth of patient data and today, a hybrid approach is needed,” he said, noting the popularity of apps and new kinds of devices that people are using to track their health.
“Patients are using all types of devices, with apps on their iPhones and Android devices that are continuously updated, and the location of the data not necessarily known. But it can still be connected to our cloud.”
Saskatchewan is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to deploy a private/public cloud strategy to better manage its health information.
While the public component of the system is still in the testing phase, the private portion of the cloud is being rolled out in full force. Earlier this year, eHealth Saskatchewan moved from the use of a single data centre to twin centres, one in Regina and the other in Saskatoon.
The twin data centres have full failover abilities – if one is temporarily down, the other can take over and serve clinicians and administrators across the province. “We can shut off one data centre and never miss a beat,” said Craddock.
Moreover, the new, private cloud is being used to consolidate the computerized applications used in Saskatchewan’s 13 health authorities, along with those of the Ministry of Health. The ministry’s solutions include birth and death registrations, vital statistics, and a health-card registry, along with others.
There are multiple benefits. In addition to the disaster management capabilities, the system centralizes the software solutions that are used by the 13 regional health authorities. “They were all supporting their own applications,” and running separate data centres, said Craddock.
So instead of multiple data centres, there will soon be just two. That means hardware and software can be more easily managed, with upgrades done at the same time, instead of on different timelines at many different locations.
The province-wide applications include the Allscripts Sunrise electronic patient record and an EHR viewer from Orion Health that allows clinicians across Saskatchewan to see the records. There are also common applications used for registration and pharmacy, as well as a Cerner radiology information system.
Most of the community physicians across the province are using QHR’s Accuro electronic medical record; it, too, will be integrated into the private cloud, making the management of patient records for physicians much more efficient.
An outlier is the province-wide Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), which is supplied and managed separately by Philips. The company maintains its own servers in the data centres, and runs the province-wide PACS on behalf of the health system.
An innovative feature of the eHealth Saskatchewan cloud is the inclusion of virtual desktops and ‘follow-me’ technology for clinicians. This means a doctor who leaves a computer in one exam room or ward can jump back to wherever he or she was in the next system simply by swiping an ID card over a reader.
“They can return to their last session, wherever they are,” said Craddock.
This will save a lot of time and trouble for doctors when moving around a facility. It means that clinicians don’t have to carry a tablet around, as they can easily reach all the information they need, wherever they happen to be.
Craddock’s team will be enabling 6,000 desktops in this way over the next few months; the uptake by clinicians will take place over the next year.
In all, the rollout of the hybrid cloud has been the result of two years of hard work and a substantial investment, Craddock said. The new data centres each have 600 square feet of ‘heavy density’ computing power, with 3,000 servers and terabytes of storage capacity.
“We’ve built a robust infrastructure,” said Craddock.