Bendigo hospital goes into the cloud

Bendigo Health chief information officer Bruce Winzar.
Bendigo Health chief information officer Bruce Winzar.

When Bendigo’s new $630 million hospital opened earlier this year, it became the first regional health service in the country to take full advantage of cloud technology in the management of patients’ medical records.

And with high-profile cyber attacks causing havoc to computer systems around the world, Bendigo Health’s chief information officer Bruce Winzar said the technology had actually allowed the hospital to improve the security of its data.

Mr Winzar said rather than being sent out aimlessly into the ether, as the term “cloud” might suggest, the data was sent to Melbourne before being backed up in Sydney via dedicated fibre-optic cables, bypassing the internet entirely.

“You do lose some control, for instance you’re dependent on the cloud service provider to upgrade all their systems and machines,” he said.

“When they upgrade those systems it’s almost seamless but if you go from a version five to a version six [for example], we’ve got to be ready to be able to make sure our packages work under version six so it’s good ICT management because it forces us to keep all our systems up to date.

“In most businesses ... you would find that not everyone keeps up to date all the time so you get out of sync and hence the ransomware incident in the last 72 hours.”

Another danger of storing information offsite is the risk a system failure will result in the hospital being cut off from critical information about its patients, but Mr Winzar said that risk was no greater in the cloud than when information was stored in on-site servers.

“If a link goes down or gets cut, you’re down, it doesn't matter whether it’s hosted in Bendigo Community Telco’s data centre out in Flora Hill or in Melbourne or the Northern Territory, you’re down – same with the cloud, however the likelihood of the links being cut between here and Melbourne, between Melbourne and Sydney all at the same time, those percentage chances are very, very low,” he said.

“We’ve been in the cloud since October and we’ve had one down time on the cloud which was in a matter of minutes where there was a hack to a web application in the Microsoft Azure platform – that was fixed my Microsoft within minutes so we were back online.”

And if things really go wrong, there’s always the old-fashioned way.

“We copy the in-patient records to a server on site and at any point in time if we were to lose access to the digital medical record in the cloud we have an up-to-date copy of every patient inside our hospital and we can then print out information pertaining to that patient,” Mr Winzar said.

“If we want to add a new patient it goes through a paper process and then gets updated later.”