The Promise of Public Clouds for Digital Healthcare

Jeff Needham

Digital healthcare in 2030: Personalized, preventive care designed by platform thinking

Cloud-based, digital platforms are integral to the future of healthcare delivery. It stands to reason that how well an organization executes on a cloud migration strategy today, may be an indicator of possible future performance and success.

Picture two scenarios in the year 2030. In scenario A, you’re in an exam room with your physician and you’re connected to a device that can perform a host of diagnostic functions on the fly, like imaging, blood testing, and cardiovascular activity. A band-aid sized medical device you’ve been wearing helped alert your physician to a possible condition, which is the reason for your visit.

Data from that wearable device, combined with the data collected by the device in the exam room, is analyzed using several machine learning models. Those models have been trained using data from millions of healthcare records across the globe and by clinicians seeking out effective treatment pathways for numerous conditions.

Within minutes, in the exam room, thousands of data points come together to assist your physician in providing you with a diagnosis and treatment that helps you live the healthiest life possible.

In scenario B, patients’ interactions with healthcare providers are much like they are today. You may have the benefit of some automated appointment reminders, or you may be able to share healthcare data from your wearable device directly with your physician. Other than that, the average patient’s care isn’t improved by the strategic benefits of digital health data in the public cloud.

How healthcare and insurance companies get to scenario A, where the healthcare industry has the benefit of personalized patient experiences, will hinge on the decisions made today.

Pitfalls on the road to the digital healthcare future

The combination of medical devices, data and machine learning could revolutionize healthcare delivery to be far more predictive and effective than ever before. We currently have the tools to build a healthcare system predominantly delivered within digital platforms and ecosystems with devices, data, and services integrated and interoperable within and across provider networks. These services could be facilitated by cloud computing platforms and infrastructure.

Despite having entered its second decade, however, cloud adoption continues to pose a challenge to a significant number of healthcare organizations globally. As McKinsey pointed out, “an overwhelming majority of large organizations [have experienced] … failure modes” when it comes to cloud migration efforts.*

McKinsey coined four “failure modes” to describe the different scenarios that can wreak havoc on an organization's public cloud adoption efforts: pilot stall, cloud gridlock, no value from lift and shift, and cloud chaos.*

We’ll focus specifically on how your organization can avoid failure with both pilot stall and no value from “lift and shift.” McKinsey describes them as follows:

“Pilot stall: Companies have succeeded in implementing a few greenfield applications on public-cloud platforms, but the value derived from these programs has been limited.

This makes further progress impossible because tech leaders cannot make a convincing business case to extend the use of the cloud platform into the heart of IT’s technology environment.”

“No value from ‘lift and shift’: The migration of significant portions of the technology environment—largely by replacing on-premises virtual machines with off-premises ones without taking advantage of cloud-optimization levers—has failed to significantly reduce costs or increase flexibility. Support for cloud initiatives subsequently collapses.”

3 key steps towards a digital health business model

Clearly, a strong partnership between business and IT is essential for success, but is there more to the story? We think so. Organizations that can synthesize both business and IT objectives into a unified vision will be the most successful. This new digital business model is key to truly transforming healthcare. It recognizes that technology is something we put to work to solve healthcare problems and challenges, and create new opportunities.

Here are three steps to take:

  • Define where you want to go: As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” When it comes to modernizing healthcare, or any industry, it’s critical for an organization to articulate and communicate a business vision and strategy.
    • What kind of company do you want to be?
    • What kinds of products or services do you want to bring to market?
    • What data management challenges do you need to overcome in order to realize your vision?
  • Put technology in its place: Cloud is not a business strategy. Public cloud platforms and infrastructure facilitate the execution of your business strategy. These tools should inform your business strategy, and even inspire you to articulate more ambitious business outcomes and vision.
  • Pivot from applications, to platforms: We’ve been building IT applications in healthcare for decades. We even use the term application delivery to describe the teams that write our software.

    Much of this work has helped to digitize previously analog processes or workflow steps. Many EHR (electronic healthcare record) systems are an example of this. While they help physicians and nurses capture and share patient chart information more quickly, they do not fundamentally transform the services rendered to patients.

On the road to the digital health future, we need to shift to a newer paradigm – platform thinking – in order to progress past simply digitizing and on to digitally transforming healthcare systems.

What is platform thinking? It’s the recognition that as our world becomes increasingly more software driven, web and mobile platforms are becoming the predominant way that we consume and interact with a company's products and services.

Stay tuned for part two in our series: How the healthcare industry benefits from platform thinking.

  • [Case study] How Humana took HL7 FHIR to the cloud and drove better patient experiences

  • [Blog] FHIR Technology is Driving Healthcare’s Digital Revolution

  • [Blog] Drowning in data: why it’s time to end the healthcare data lake

*Giemzo, Jayne, et al. “How Cios and CTOS Can Accelerate Digital Transformations through Cloud Platforms.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 11 Aug. 2021,