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Ask the Experts - Protecting Healthcare Data

BridgeHead Software : 06 December, 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 Two
Prohealthservicezone: Should the approach to disaster recovery of data in the healthcare industry be viewed differently to other industrial or commercial sectors?

Absolutely. In other industrial and commercial sectors, the impact of systems downtime is measured in economic terms: pounds and pence. In healthcare, however, systems downtime, if not managed correctly, can also negatively influence the delivery of patient care.

The key to understanding how to create a robust 'Healthcare Disaster Recovery' strategy is to understand the nature and characteristics of the data you need to protect, as well as the intricacies of the storage environment itself.

Data generated by clinical and administrative applications can be categorised by whether it is “dynamic” (frequently accessed and likely to change) or “static” (infrequently accessed and unlikely to change).

To create an efficient and effective disaster recovery strategy, we believe hospitals should employ the strategic combination of backup and archiving technologies to ensure that both dynamic and static data are stored, secured and protected in the most appropriate and cost effective way as best befits the organisation’s use of that data. More information on the unique nature of healthcare disaster recovery can be found in our free white paper, “Why Disaster Recovery is Different in Healthcare”.

Prohealthservicezone: How seriously do you think the healthcare sector treats data backup compared with other industries?

Results from the BridgeHead Software Data Management Healthcheck 2010 (Ref 1) reflected the vital importance of backup to the healthcare sector. Along with disaster recovery, 44 per cent of respondents worldwide voted backup as the year’s highest investment priority.

There is a definite urgency for hospitals to revamp their backup and DR strategies. The rapid growth of data that continues to besiege healthcare providers is making traditional backup methods redundant and hospitals need to respond to that challenge.

Prohealthservicezone: Does archiving have a role to play in disaster recovery strategy?

Definitely. Today, many hospitals are attempting to backup all of their clinical and administrative data across their entire organisations. Others are taking a more selective approach by backing up only specific mission critical systems simply because they can’t physically protect the vast quantities of digital information they have. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In most cases, this data is being retained for the life of the patient sometimes beyond often because the hospital does not have the capability to appropriately apply retention management policies. But the key question to ask here is why continue to repeatedly back up static data that is unlikely to ever be accessed again and will never change? In doing so, you are simply making copies of copies without any real benefit.

By moving static data off your expensive primary storage assets into a self-protecting archive, backup windows are vastly reduced (by as much as 80 per cent). This practice also has a positive knock-on effect to the speed with which data can be recovered in the event of system outage, data corruption or loss, or larger disasters. In addition, archiving offers the quickest and most efficient way to do file level retrieval which is generally the most requested form of recovery a hospital IT department faces. Through archiving, end users can be enabled to recover their own files instead of draining the considerable time and resources of the IT department. Archiving can also drastically reduce maintenance and hardware overheads by writing data to lower cost disk, optical, tape and into the Cloud in any combination. The copies may also be replicated onto devices at different sites to facilitate Healthcare Disaster Recovery (HDR).

In spite of the many benefits of archiving static data in accordance with HDR strategies, many hospitals are still storing enormous volumes of this data online on expensive spinning disk. Managing static data on primary storage is a grossly inefficient and expensive practice, especially when hospital budgets are already so tight. Overall, it is estimated that the annual cost of managing static data on the primary store can be in excess of 15 times the cost of the physical disk itself. Archiving not only supports an effective HDR strategy; it is also of significant aid in reducing data-centre carbon emissions and hospital overheads.

Prohealthservicezone: How flexible does a hospital’s data storage management system need to be?

There is an increasing demand by hospitals to ensure their applications and platforms across all of their departments and geographies interoperate with each other. More and more hospitals are moving towards paperless environments and there is a definite requirement for clinicians to have access to the total Electronic Patient Record from historical information through to newly produced medical images for the accurate and efficient delivery of quality care. However, we are increasingly seeing the need for access to this information e.g. in the aggregation of data for use in research.

From an IT perspective, total data interoperability and seamless data management not only increases the utilisation of storage resources; it also requires less maintenance, power and cooling, and the data could be optimised through advanced services (such as automated retention management, compression and de-duplication), secured through encryption and authentication and, thereby, shared safely.

Interoperability and storage vendor-agnosticism are essential to creating a flexible healthcare storage management system that supports rising data volumes, makes the best use of existing assets, facilitates hassle-free migration across storage and applications, decreases hospital overheads and reduces the carbon footprint.

This holistic approach to healthcare data management is something we are dedicated to at BridgeHead Software. Our Healthcare Storage Virtualization (HSV) platform answers hospitals’ call for an interoperable data and storage management framework that puts them in control of all patient information throughout the entire organisation.

Prohealthservicezone: Is data migration a growing challenge?

Data migration is a growing challenge, and here’s why: most storage hardware platforms have a shelf life of three to five years, whereas most healthcare data outlasts the life of the patient. Patient data will therefore be migrated onto various different hardware and software platforms as technology needs change.

Given the proprietary nature of some applications and storage platforms, this can be difficult. Devices are not always configured to communicate with each other, so data migration can be an arduous and time-consuming process.

Hospital data volumes are growing every day. As they move ever closer towards fully paperless environments, hospitals must invest in robust vendor-agnostic data management and storage frameworks to keep themselves in the technology “driver’s seat” when agreeing new contracts and to prevent tedious and expensive data migrations when switching or upgrading applications.


Ref 1 - BridgeHead Software Data Management Healthcheck 2010
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