Lab Matters Winter 2020 - Page 24

INFORMATICS Moving to the Cloud Signals a Bright Future for Public Health Data Exchange By Jill Sakai, PhD, writer When the APHL Informatics Messaging Service (AIMS) platform was created in 2008, it was designed to help public health laboratories send seasonal influenza data to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to inform surveillance. “Over the years, AIMS has grown to be quite a bit more than that,” said Dari Shirazi, APHL’s manager of health information technology. “Now not only do we send messages from one place to the other, but we also house a lot of capabilities on AIMS.” Those include communication portals, electronic reporting, data validation and even analysis of whole genome sequencing data. These changes have been possible because of cloud computing, Shirazi said. The cloud provides access to shared computing resources in remote data centers via the Internet, allowing organizations to tap into data storage and processing power on demand and pay just for what they need, when they need it. “The cloud strategy is all about trying to use your resources as efficiently as possible,” he said. For AIMS, turning to cloud-based services is helping the platform redefine the roles of public health laboratories, agencies and APHL in health data exchange. Cloud Benefits Cloud computing can give even relatively small organizations access to powerful computing resources without needing to maintain costly facilities, said Marty Sibley, MS, a cloud computing specialist for APHL. The cloud frees a local team from needing to acquire, maintain and update servers, and makes it possible to shift usage up—and, importantly, down— as demand changes. “You can scale your organization rapidly with a low cost of entry,” Sibley said. 22 LAB MATTERS Winter 2020 Someday all 5,500-plus private hospitals and clinics in the US will be connected to public health agencies via the AIMS platform Moving AIMS to the cloud in 2014 also simplified many aspects of security and maintaining HIPAA and FISMA Moderate compliance. Data center physical and environmental controls, for example, are all managed by the cloud service provider rather than APHL. The AIMS team also credits cloud computing with lowering barriers to innovation and allowing laboratories to be more agile when adapting to new needs. As more public health laboratories perform next-generation sequencing, for example, they must grapple with larger quantities of data. “Using cloud resources, you can add 1,000 computers to help you analyze this data very quickly,” Shirazi said. “Yes, you could buy 1,000 computers locally and spin them up—but it would take a lot of resources.” Bridging Public and Private Sectors AIMS is now using cloud resources to expand the traditional boundaries of public health data exchange. In 2017, APHL began a private-public collaboration with Quest Diagnostics and CDC to establish an approach to validate and route the company’s electronic laboratory results (ELR) via the AIMS platform to the appropriate public health agencies. By late 2019, 91 percent of the 55 public health agencies were able to receive secure electronic reportable disease messages from Quest. “That particular project was a big turning point, and it would have been nearly impossible without cloud computing,” said Eduardo Gonzalez Loumiet, MBA, PMP, CPHIMS, CEO of Ruvos, the firm that PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org