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Healthcare Data Experiencing Explosive Growth

August 12, 2010
by John DeGaspari
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Data volumes outstripping affordable storage, according to survey.

The results of a survey, released last month by Woburn, Mass.-based BridgeHead Software, Inc., revealed that, despite rapid growth in volumes of data, relatively few healthcare providers have a migration strategy to transfer older data that is rarely accessed from primary storage to less costly storage tiers.

The survey revealed a tendency of healthcare organizations to use relatively expensive storage mediums to archive the rapidly expanding volumes of data. About 66 percent of respondents say their organizations store archived date on disk; 32.8 percent use optical media; and about 30 percent use tape. Only 9 percent of respondents said they used cloud storage as a destination medium.

Surprisingly, only 26 percent of respondents said they had a full migration policy that included archiving data to appropriate—and less expensive—storage tiers. Most (43.8 percent) said they have some applications with archiving capabilities, and an additional 18.8 percent said they don’t have a policy to store data according to age or value, but intend to. But 11.5 percent said their organizations do not have plans to implement an age or value data migration policy.

Many of the respondents fully expect their data storage requirements to increase at a rapid clip. Forty-one percent of respondents anticipate annual data volume increases of 25 percent, while another 18.1 percent said their data volumes would increase between 25 percent and 50 percent per year. This reality will influence their spending priorities over the next 12 to 18 months. As for the main drivers of the data growth, 65.3 percent identified digital imaging files, followed by files held in electronic personal records or electronic health records (45.5 percent); and scanned documents (42.6 percent).

When asked to identify the top three IT spending priorities for the next 12 months, 44.3 percent said backup/disaster recovery, followed by picture archiving and communications systems (PACS) (37.7 percent), digitizing paper records (34.9 percent), and archives (32.1 percent).

In comments on the survey’s findings, BridgeHead president and CEO Tony Cotterill says the data management problem is going to grow more severe over time. “Inevitably hospitals are going to have to have a different data management strategy than they have today,” he says.

High-resolution medical images, which are not compressible, are the single largest contributor to the growth in digitized data, Cotterill says. When combined with enhanced reporting requirements under the meaningful use rule of HITECH Act, health providers can expect a sharp increase in digitized media well into the foreseeable future. In addition, Cotterill notes, heightened HIPAA requirements will make it necessary to have a disaster recovery plan in place in which patient data is readily accessible in the event of an emergency.

To cope with the large and growing amounts of data, Cotterill says it will become necessary for hospitals to develop a tier strategy to store data in less costly media. The majority of data in hospitals—up to 80 percent—will rarely if ever be accessed again, he says. He notes that various types of data will have different retention criteria, security requirements, and call-back frequencies, requiring different sets of rules as they migrate to tiered storage. Moving that portion of the data offline to less expensive storage will save costs while making dynamic data more manageable in case a disaster should occur, he says.

The roughly 130 respondents in the International 2010 Data Management Healthcheck Survey are associated with healthcare providers in the U.S. and U.K. Their organizations were fairly evenly distributed between small and large facilities, about half of which were public institutions. IT managers accounted for the greatest number of respondents (25 percent). About 17 percent were senior IT executives, followed by non-IT directors and managers, at 16.4 percent. Others represented a variety of clinical, technical or administrative positions within their healthcare organizations.