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The Changing Face of Healthcare

Ken Puffer

ePlus, a long-time trusted NetApp partner, empowers organizations to imagine and accomplish more with technology. Beginning with assessment, ePlus advises, designs, implements, and optimizes cloud, security, and digital infrastructure solutions to help customers:

  • thrive in the digital economy and multi-cloud world;
  • drive better business outcomes;
  • stay ahead of the innovation curve.
Ken Puffer, ePlus CTO was asked to share his experience and knowledge with us on the changing face of healthcare.

When it comes to technology adoption, the healthcare industry has historically been slower to embrace new information technologies than other sectors. As a notably risk-averse industry, most healthcare organizations have preferred to take a more conservative approach, depending on others to vet technology solutions, seeing how well they were able to implement the technology, and learning how successful the outcomes were, before considering adoption.

However, the pressure to innovate is growing now more than ever. It is imperative for healthcare organizations to make strategic investments in IT to seamlessly modernize and integrate their care delivery systems.

Over the past 25 years that I’ve worked in healthcare, transformation has really been an evolutionary process. Hospitals and healthcare systems that have embraced transformation have well-defined business goals that include both operational and technology imperatives.

In my role as the Healthcare CTO at ePlus, I work with our healthcare customers and partners in the following three areas:

  1. Understanding the business challenges facing hospitals and healthcare systems to ensure that technology solutions or services solve the problems they are facing, such as reducing cost of care, improving patient services, and delivering better information to care providers including researchers, physicians and payors.
  2. Reviewing the total value that the organization receives from their existing systems and comparing this against the total value the organization will expect to receive from new technology. This includes considering their current skill sets, any operational changes that would result in improved efficiency, system consolidation where possible and appropriate and, most importantly, improving system confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
  3. Building trust with IT groups and business units to establish a strong partnership and trusted advisor status that will help the organization keep pace with changes in technology, make good IT investment decisions, as well as educate and raise the skill level of the people integral to the organization’s IT transformation projects. 
Over the past few years, cloud and cloud technologies have become much more well-defined and well-understood as compared with five-to-ten years ago. When working with healthcare clients, this has meant being able to articulate and provide a better understanding of how the organization can leverage cloud technologies to solve business problems – whether that’s availability, integrity of their data, reducing costs or, in some cases, improving their security posture.

While many healthcare organizations are slower to embrace transformation, some segments of the healthcare industry are rapidly adopting cloud systems. Typically, this transformation has to do with moving to hosted electronic healthcare records (EHR) solutions or EHR systems that provide multiple modules to tackle the broadest spectrum of the care delivery process.

This trend of moving to hosted EHR solutions has taken hold where healthcare organizations are looking for ways to reduce their operational expenses, in both the costs of their on-premises infrastructure and savings in areas where they may be overstaffed. What’s more, for organizations looking to consolidate their systems as they acquire new hospitals or other healthcare entities, migrating those entities’ systems into their corporate EHR makes a cloud-based system attractive in order to maintain availability to all member hospitals.

What is the key to successful transformation? In my experience, it is focusing on the value of integration.

One of our clients, a large healthcare organization in the Carolinas, decided to make the move to a cloud-based EHR. They were traditionally an on-premises organization, managing their own data centers with some high availability. They made the choice to move to a hosted EHR for a couple of reasons. Some were operational, others were capital-expenditure-based, but by evaluating their previous processes, we unearthed an opportunity to reduce manual processes and paper-based records, and provide better integration of the EHR with other ancillary systems where a particular module that covers a workflow of that department was missing.

This focus on highly-integrated systems is very impactful to activities taking place in the back end, such as sharing data among multiple departments, the cost and effectiveness of creating interfaces, and infrastructure to share information between different systems.

Technology innovation in the healthcare sector is progressing rapidly. What can we expect to see emerge/advance in the healthcare landscape?

1) Cloud Security & Healthcare-Specific Security Frameworks

Security remains one of the biggest concerns in healthcare. However, it’s also an opportunity for organizations to learn how to effectively secure their systems as they move to the cloud, secure their communication channels, and assure HIPAA compliance. In the past couple of years, healthcare-specific security frameworks such as NIST and HITRUST have started to become more prevalent and adopted. These frameworks are roadmaps healthcare organizations can use to develop policies and procedures that will secure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems and data.

With healthcare data at more and more risk every day, we’ll continue to see more focus and innovation in healthcare security to make sure that both security controls and the dependent processes are in place to safeguard healthcare data as the pace of technology change accelerates.

2) Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Integration

Many of the AI and machine learning models that we see today are still in the ‘clinical trials’ phase. This might be a technology that is looking for a business or clinical problem to solve or there may be a solution that has had good success in a test environment and is beginning to be expanded to gather more information in order to strengthen the deep learning model. In the next few years, we’ll start to see AI and deep learning integration become more mainstream within the care delivery process in hospitals. As an example, we are starting to see fine genomic consideration leveraged into precision medicine in mainstream organizations, which involves tailoring drug therapies based on a person’s genomic makeup. This provides greater efficacy and ultimately gets people better more quickly and off medication sooner.   Our relationship with NetApp has accelerated our ability to provide value to clients. I want to make the point, though, that when we design solutions for customers, we are vendor agnostic. We represent a lot of technologies and we always select what we believe is the best solution for the customer and the initiative.

Having said that, we do implement a lot of NetApp (and FlexPod) for our clients. Our relationship with NetApp spans more than a decade and there is a tremendous amount of trust between our two companies.

One of the great reasons we have partnered with NetApp and the ONTAP platform is their remarkable ability to adapt to changes in the industry. First, multi-protocol, then clustered flash, and now we see specialized practices like artificial intelligence and validated designs for EHR. NetApp and ONTAP have adapted their offerings and maintained the interoperability they've been famous for. These are some the ways NetApp has brought value both to us, and by extension to our customers.

When you're working with a company that is progressive, is self-aware, is constantly looking to innovate and stay in touch with the needs and the changes in the marketplace, it makes our conversations with our customers much easier, and ultimately means we can be more confident with the recommendations we are making.

A great example is one of our customers, a large health information exchange. They have reduced their footprint, consolidated some of their NetApp infrastructure, and used NetApp, ONTAP and the cloud to manage their data, moving a portion of it out to the cloud, as they ready to move their entire application to the cloud. NetApp’s multi-cloud, data fabric vision and tight integration with AWS (as well as the other hyper-scalers) are very beneficial for this customer.

In summary, I simply want to say that at ePlus we are committed to healthcare and to helping healthcare organizations make the right choices. Obviously, for us this means staying current with trends and ensuring that we are recommending and deploying solutions that are proven, compliant, and aligned to business outcomes. Our partnership with NetApp (and FlexPod) is important because NetApp is equally committed to healthcare and has been delivering healthcare-specific solutions for a long, long time.

If you are reading this blog and are interested in learning more about how ePlus can help you, you can connect with me directly on LinkedIn or you can reach out to Jeannine Perri, our Director of Partner Marketing, at

Ken Puffer

As the CTO of Healthcare for ePlus, Ken Puffer has more than twenty years in the healthcare industry, garnered both in healthcare operations and technology consulting. The healthcare industry is at a critical inflection point, dealing with changing reimbursement models, advanced technology initiatives for improving patient and physician engagement and satisfaction, and massive migrations to the cloud that carry security, privacy and compliance concerns not faced by other industries. Ken is passionate that his role enables him to simplify the choices healthcare organizations face when they embark on new paths to select and integrate technology to more effectively meet business, operational and security needs.

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