By Neil Brown, Sales Engineer, BridgeHead Software

I have recently taken up a new position working for BridgeHead Software who specialise in data management solutions specifically for the healthcare industry. Until joining BridgeHead, my background has largely been as a storage and IT infrastructure expert operating predominantly in the private sector. Since taking up my new role is the most common question I seem to get asked by hospital CIOs/IT staff, PACS Managers, clinicians and the like is, “how does the healthcare industry differ from other industries you have worked in?”

This is a really interesting question and one to which I believe there is an obvious answer. More and more software applications are being introduced into industry to help increase efficiencies and reduce costs. With these new technologies comes a proliferation of data. Consequently, businesses across all sectors, from financial services to retail, local government to manufacturing, are all having to tackle data management issues resulting from this data explosion. Common to all of these industries (to a more or lesser extent) is the requirement to store, protect and share data. However, I have been amazed to discover just how acute the problem is for healthcare providers.

In my opinion, medical imaging is the main contributor to this issue. Radiology, Cardiology and Ophthalmology, to name but a few, are producing a larger volume of images of an ever higher fidelity. However, this data is largely spread across a range of departments, often in discrete, standalone silos. In healthcare, it seems there is an increasing strategic requirement to ensure this massive volume of data is stored efficiently and intelligently, protected from misuse, loss, corruption or disaster, and shared effectively across the hospital Enterprise – to those that need it, when they need it. This is a huge and ever worsening challenge to the healthcare IT professional.

In my view, with static (or even shrinking) budgets in healthcare, it is unfeasible to keep simply adding more and more Tier1 storage to these silo systems. There are three obvious consequences of pursuing such a strategy:

  1. Tier1 (SAN) storage is very expensive
  2. There’s an ever increasing backup window to effectively protect all of the data (many hospitals are already struggling to maintain a regular back of all of their data and some are compromising by only protecting certain systems leaving themselves at considerable risk)
  3. There’s an equally long recovery time objective to get a hospital back to an operational status.

This third point has been brutally demonstrated recently when a major UK hospital lost its PACS application for several days until it was restored. It is worth considering what such an outage could mean for your hospital. A “head in the sand” approach is not an option. Something needs to be done to safeguard the hospital against such risks.

What I have learned is that the vast majority of imaging data never changes. Industry figures show that approximately 80% of a hospitals image data is static and unchanging, with only 20% being regularly accessed and updated. What if there was a better way to effectively manage this unchanging data? In my new role, I have discovered that there is an alternative.

Why not take the 80% of data that does not change and archive that onto a more appropriate storage platform? This could be a more cost effective Direct Attached (DAS) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. It could be a cloud or tape-based solution. It could be any combination of the above, with multiple copies of the data geographically dispersed across locations, housed on different storage and media types, providing true protection against data loss.
Think about what this achieves for your hospital. If you have an effective archive policy for the 80% of your data that never changes, you can free up 80% of your primary storage and, thereby, eliminate the requirement to add more and more expensive disk shelves and drives.

In addition, if your backup window is reduced by 80%, your restore window is also reduced by 80% – this gives you piece of mind that you can recover your systems and data in a disaster recovery scenario, achieving an operational status much faster than you would otherwise be able to do.

The good news is that many hospitals now understand these issues and are starting to implement data management strategies across their Enterprise. But there is still some way to go.

If you recognise these issues as relevant to your own organisation, and want some advice on how you might go about implementing a strategy for effective data management across your hospital, feel free to get in touch. Or, if you would like to get a better understanding of the nature and profile of your hospital’s data, why not download our free FileScan tool. Many of our customers find it quite eye-opening.