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Ask the Experts - Data Management Challenges in Healthcare

BridgeHead Software : 24 November, 2010  (Special Report)
FOCUS ZONE ON DATA MANAGEMENT - Paul Buckley, Prohealthservicezone’s editor interviews Tony Cotterill, Chief Executive of BridgeHead Software, the Healthcare Storage Virtualization company - Part One
Prohealthservicezone: What is driving up the volumes of data managed in the healthcare sector? What is the scale of the challenge?

Tony Cotterill - Healthcare organisations everywhere are increasing reliance on their IT systems, and managing the influx of generated data is a huge challenge that affects not just hospitals in the UK, but around the world. The BridgeHead Software Data Management Healthcheck 2010 indicated that 69 per cent of hospitals worldwide expected their data volumes to increase this year.

The survey found that Picture Archive and Communication Systems (PACS) imaging files were the main culprits behind the healthcare data upsurge - which is understandable given that we are seeing hospitals increasing adoption of medical imaging systems in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. The issue for healthcare IT professionals is that the images created are voluminous and very high-resolution and, therefore, take up a large share of storage space.

The move towards Electronic Patient Records (EPRs) and paperless environments is another factor influencing the healthcare data upsurge. Not only are more facets of the patient record being stored electronically, but also more and more historical records and other documents (such as proof of identity) are being scanned and added to the system.

Finally, hospitals are increasingly using office administration and productivity systems including email, word processing documents and spreadsheets which, in turn, generate a substantial amount of data.

Prohealthservicezone: How much of the data that is stored is ever accessed more than once?

Tony Cotterill - The vast majority - about 80 per cent - of healthcare data is “static,” meaning that after 90 days of its creation, it is highly unlikely to be accessed or changed again. Only about 20 per cent of healthcare data is “dynamic,” or regularly accessed and changed. We know this because we offer a free utility called FileScan which healthcare organisations can run on their systems to generate detailed reports that identify and classify data according to whether it is static or dynamic. The FileScan reports often surprise the hospitals that run them they are aware they have static data, but generally don’t appreciate the quantity.

Keeping static data on primary storage can lead to low performance as well as expanded backup windows and recovery times. To counteract this, we advocate the practice of removing static data from expensive spinning disk and storing it on less costly media, be it cheaper disk, tape, optical or even the cloud.

Prohealthservicezone: What do you see as the three key data management issues currently facing hospitals?

Tony Cotterill 1. There are often multiple systems from different vendors for managing various types of clinical and administrative data, both on and off hospital premises. As a result of the sheer number and complexity of healthcare systems, managing data and storage can be extremely challenging.

This already-complex environment is further complicated by vendor “lock-in”, where systems providers, in effect, have full control over the storage and management of all data generated on their systems. This is counter to what a hospital needs. The 2009 KLAS enterprise imaging report stated that hospitals wanted to manage and control their own data, yet they were increasingly unhappy to find themselves at the mercy of the vendor when it came to managing data generated on that vendor’s device (Ref 2). We especially see this frustration occurring where medical images are concerned. Vendor lock-in is a counterintuitive approach for healthcare IT professionals who have to manage, update and integrate various data types from different systems.

2. Interoperability between applications is a major data management issue currently facing hospitals (which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with healthcare’s complicated data environment, as described above).

Let’s take medical images as an example. Different flavours and versions of PACS cannot always read and use each other’s data. A certain imaging device may say it is “DICOM conformant” but different devices adhere to the DICOM standard in different ways. Not all devices are designed to interoperate with each other. As a result, healthcare IT professionals often encounter difficulties when trying to manage data from different systems; they also encounter time-consuming problems when trying to migrate data across applications as technology needs change. What hospitals really need are fully interoperable applications that are able to read each other’s data. The solution starts with how the data is stored and in what format.

3. Finally, backup and disaster recovery is a huge data management challenge facing hospitals all over the world and once again, the complexity of the healthcare environment and the rising volume of data makes DR more complicated than in most other sectors.

Watch out in coming weeks the second instalment of Prohealthservicezone’s interview with Tony Cotterill, Chief Executive of BridgeHead Software, for more on the unique nature of healthcare disaster recovery.

Or download BridgeHead Software’s free whitepaper: Why Disaster Recovery Is Different In Healthcare


Ref 1 - BridgeHead Software Data Management Healthcheck 2010

Ref 2 - KLAS - Enterprise Imaging: A Vendor Reality Check
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