HHS CIO touts cloud-based shared health care services

The Health and Human Services Department is looking to use cloud computing as a way to share services that will be created in the move toward health reform, the agency’s acting CIO said Aug. 23.

“One of the things that I have been promoting is the need to share services across common functions,” said John Teeter, HHS’ deputy CIO said during a panel discussion at Meritalk’s Innovation Forum in Washington, D.C.

The talk centered on the Office of Management and Budget’s cloud-first policy, which requires agencies to identify and move three applications to cloud infrastructures within the next 18 months.

There is a big push at HHS to support health IT to advance health reform, said Teeter, who made his comments a few hours before a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled Washington, D.C., and forced the evacuation of the Convention Center.

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In the past many health programs have been partitioned off into their own areas of focus, he said. HHS is now looking at the health domain as an interrelated set of shared services across a much broader set of stakeholders. Health care reform is not just about federal agencies but includes health providers, hospitals, patients and other groups, Teeter said.

One way of managing these environments is to use the cloud to implement a shared-services environment, he added.

For example, current health reform polices calls for states to build health insurance exchanges to make it easier for consumers to shop for individual health plans. Some services related to purchasing health insurance — such as income verification — are similar across states. In that case, the service can be built once and shared across the insurance supply chain, Teeter said.

HHS is looking at candidates for the cloud from applications that are publicly available now, Teeter said. Some HHS grant processing systems are candidates, as well as web services that provide content for HHS’ various websites.

1,000 instances of cloud

The cloud-first strategy requires careful management, Teeter said. “As acting CIO I have to know where systems are, where data is, and is it protected,” he said, noting , that there is now the potential for 1,000 instances of cloud that have to be managed.

The Census Bureau is taking a hybrid approach to cloud computing with 90 percent of the agency’s effort focused on a private cloud, the agency’s chief technology officer, Avi Bender, told attendees.

Whether an agency is pushing cloud computing or cloud-first, the business intent is to work cost-effectively, drive operational efficiency and do it any way they can, Bender said. “For us, cloud-first is a business imperative we are going to do whether there is a mandate or not. We have no choice,” Bender said.

Fred Whiteside, a project manager with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cloud computing program, said cloud would remain a fixture of federal computing policy.

“I don’t think cloud is going away” because former federal CIO Vivek Kundra has left the public sector, he said.

Plus, cloud is not just another twist on outsourcing, he said.

There are concerns with e-discovery, records management and security that will be worked out “as we go — but we will go,” Whiteside said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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