Meaningful Use, 3D Imaging Drive Health Data Storage Demand

Healthcare providers are under siege by massive amounts of data. This is forcing the industry to upgrade its aging storage infrastructures, architectures and systems. Where that data is being stored may come as a surprise.

By Allen Bernard
Wed, May 22, 2013

CIO — Healthcare providers have unique data storage challenges. Not only is the data they deal with highly sensitive and highly regulated, but much of it needs to be stored in a live or nearly live state indefinitely. The data must also be kept sacrosanct. For a host of medical reasons (and a few legal ones as well), you cannot alter patients' records once they are archived.

The industry is also experiencing explosive growth in data—from 500 petabytes (PBs) in 2013 to 25,000 PBs by 2020. This is due to a confluence of factors: Digital imaging for diagnosis is improving, 3D ultrasound technology is working its way into clinical settings, and 3-D X-rays and mammograms are becoming industry standards.

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These technologies can boost the size of the typical image used today by radiologists and surgeons by a factor of 10. One 60-second scan can generate 10 gigabytes (GB) of information, says Greg Hart, vice president of technology for healthcare IT and services firm McKesson. "What that means for storage is a whole shift in how you approach your systems."

Medical Records

Add to that meaningful use, which mandates the implementation, incorporation and use of electronic health record (EHR) systems in clinical settings for everything from entering doctors' orders to creating sharable copies of medical profiles, and you have an industry under siege by data.

And all of this is happening under the overarching mandate from government, insurers, businesses and patients to lower cost and drive waste out of a system that favors redundancy over efficiency, care over cost and privacy over ease of use.

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As an industry, healthcare is behind the times when it comes to using technology. Government mandates mean it must modernize in a hurry. In 2015, the meaningful use incentives being offered to hospitals—millions of dollars, in some cases—turn into penalties.

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Moreover, as the program's name suggests, it's about the "meaningful" use of EHR, not just the implementation and adoption of it. "It's not good enough to just have [an EHR system], you have to be using it to a certain level," Hart says, pointing to requirements such as entering 80 percent of all physician orders electronically. "All of this is driving data."

Like Third World counties leapfrogging landlines to build voice and data infrastructures, says IDC Health Insights Research Director Judy Hanover, it's possible for healthcare to replace aging infrastructures with next-generation technology such as scale-out NAS—which is aimed at high-availability, low-latency, high-volume data environments—or cloud-based storage from providers such as Amazon.

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