How The Ottawa Hospital Leveraged Azure to Set New IT Healthcare Standards

As one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals, The Ottawa Hospital has to manage an immense volume of sensitive information. The centre provides care to over 1.2 million people, with three major campuses and 20 additional locations. To continue to deliver outstanding patient care, the hospital needed to move its millions of patient records to a new electronic health records (EHR) system. However, data security was of the utmost importance, and its secondary data centre wasn’t up to the task without significant investment. The Ottawa Hospital looked to Azure for the answer, allowing it to deliver best-in-class data security while reducing disaster recovery costs by 50 per cent. 

What Challenges Was The Ottawa Hospital Facing?

The challenges for The Ottawa Hospital are similar to those being faced across the healthcare industry. Demand for information is growing, with everyone from partners to patients logging into portals, always wanting to access more data more quickly. And the demand for data is understandable; patients shouldn’t have to use precious time explaining their stories as they navigate a health system. Hospitals need to find ways to enable their teams to be better connected to their patients, facilitating collaboration at all levels. What’s more, there are thousands of desktop computers, and hundreds of thousands of monitoring sensors to be tracked. With every computerised device in every hospital being linked to a network, data reliability, privacy and security are pivotal to delivering care. 

The Ottawa Hospital is an extensive health science centre, where over 15,000 employees work to deliver specialised care to over 1.2 million people.  The hospital prides itself on using its learning and research to help it develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. Engaging with the community at all levels, the hospital strives to constantly deliver better patient care. Improving care by using the latest IT solutions is no new thing to Ottawa Hospital, and, in 2016, it revamped its EHR systems, using a new system called Epic to improve record-sharing. However, the move led to costly hosting setbacks. 

To move its data to Epic, the hospital needed a purpose-built hosting infrastructure. While it reviewed cloud solutions, it realised that hosting data on-premises would significantly reduce costs. The problem, however, was that the hospital had an outdated secondary datacenter, which wouldn’t be up-to-scratch as an operational disaster recovery site. This was where they hit a sticking point, access to data has to be of paramount importance, which means that securely backing up patient data was an absolute must. They needed to find an alternative other than investing the millions that would be required to bring their existing secondary datacenter up to scratch. As a leading-edge centre for research, it needed to find a leading-edge solution for its data. 

Why The Ottawa Hospital Chose Azure

As an institution used to seeking solutions for the most complex healthcare challenges, the hospital quickly realised the benefits that a cloud infrastructure could offer. As an existing Microsoft user, the hospital naturally looked to the company for a solution, and Azure seemed to provide what they were looking for. After carrying out a high-level cost analysis, Microsoft Azure promised a 40 per cent saving compared to hardware purchasing costs. What’s more, as The Ottawa Hospital wasn’t new to Microsoft technologies, already hosting Citrix and Azure Storage for medical imaging, it needed a compatible system. By using Azure cloud infrastructure, they could continuously synchronise their on-premises and disaster recovery databases.

Just six months before the hospital was due to go live with Epic, it made the decision to fully host its disaster recovery systems in Azure. While Epic is used by many other healthcare providers, this was the first time that they had supported a cloud-based installation of this type. It was a highly ambitious project, with the cost-benefits needing to be sold in on a stakeholder level to gain approval. 

Building a Secure Data Recovery Solution/System

To build its disaster recovery infrastructure, the project team at The Ottawa Hospital took advantage of several Microsoft solutions:

  • Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS) – by using Azure’s IaaS capabilities, the team was able to build a secure and scalable environment. While they only had to pay for the resources they needed at the time, they would easily be able to expand without needing to source additional hardware. 
  • M-series Azure virtual machines – the M-series offers cutting-edge technology. New at the time, Microsoft delivered the support the hospital needed for the Epic database. 
  • Azure Site Recovery – if there should be a data loss incident, Azure Site Recovery would enable the hospital to deploy failover and recovery processes. 

By building its recovery infrastructure with Azure, the hospital has taken a cutting-edge approach to data recovery, creating a mirror image of every EHR in its system that updates in real-time. 

The Benefits of Securing Data with Azure

There were two primary benefits that Azure offered, making it the ideal solution for The Ottawa Hospital’s needs:

  • Advanced data security – it was vital for the hospital to prioritise data security with any solution it chose and to meet its regulatory obligations. Azure has enabled the hospital to benefit from its built-in firewalls but also to build the infrastructure in such a way that helps protect from outside access. With Azure, the hospital can deliver best-in-class security standards, including advanced cloud security management and automation capabilities.
  • Cost savings – instead of making a huge initial investment to utilise their on-premise data centre, the hospital has been able to instantly leverage Azure’s technology. Data backup costs have been halved. What’s more, the team built the solution in just three months, further saving time and money. 

Could Microsoft Azure Help Your Business?

Azure has enabled The Ottawa Hospital to back up over 700 terabytes of data for its 5,000 users who concurrently make real-time updates to files. By working with Azure, they have set new standards for IT healthcare, showing how you can take world-class care of data as well as patients. If, like in the healthcare industry, security and compliance are of paramount importance to your business, then Azure can help. By delivering a secure backup and recovery system, you can have confidence that your business will meet compliance obligations and to constantly meet user needs, whatever happens. 

To summarise, here are the challenges, the solution and the results that The Ottawa Hospital experienced:

  • Challenges – The Ottawa Hospital, one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals, decided to revamp its EHR system. The new solution Epic, would enable them to improve record-sharing for its 1.2 million patients and 15,000 employees. However, while it decided that on-premise hosting would be significantly more cost-effective, it couldn’t deliver an operational on-premises disaster recovery site without a significant investment. They needed to find an alternative way to back up the huge volumes of patient data. 
  • Solution – as an existing Microsoft user, the hospital looked to the company for a cloud infrastructure solution and soon realised that it could save 40 per cent on the alternative hardware purchasing costs. What’s more, Azure  would offer a compatible system that would enable them to synchronise their on-premises and disaster recovery databases. 
  • Results – the team built the hospital’s disaster recovery infrastructure in just three months using a range of Azure  services. It has provided a cutting-edge approach to data recovery, delivering a mirror image of every EHR, updated in real-time. Instead of the huge hardware investment, the hospital has made a 50% saving, instantly leveraging Azure’s technology. And, in line with the hospital’s standards, the solution prioritises data security with built-in firewalls and the best-in-class security standards.
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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