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Managing Unanticipated Growth of Data Volume

September 23, 2013
by John DeGaspari
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How one radiology group simplified its image management

Austin Radiological Association (ARA), a privately owned radiology group with more than 85 physicians, faced the challenge of accurately predicting what its image storage requirements would be for each fiscal year. Based in Austin, Texas, it operates 15 imaging centers in central Texas, and provides professional reading services to 19 area hospitals. In addition, the group hosts medical images for outside clients, orthopedic practices and other area hospitals. It operates two data centers to store the images of its images as well as its clients.

R. Todd Thomas, the physician group’s CIO, says that currently its data centers store about a half petabyte of imaging data, but the bigger challenge is managing the storage needs of its own radiologists as well as the group’s outside clients, which can be can be difficult. For example, it has just added a client that specializes in mammogram studies—big in terms of storage volume—and is in talks with two other clients that interested in signing on as PACS clients. “Bringing in clients that we don’t anticipate, going into our fiscal year, adds to the surprise growth for us,” he says.

To help it adjust to that uncertainty, it uses a clustered storage system (Isilon, supplied by EMC Corp.), which allows the group to expand storage on an as-needed basis without having to buy large monolithic arrays to handle its storage needs, Thomas says. In addition, because its IT staff is relatively small, it has decided to consolidate around a single vendor rather than trying to maintain a heterogeneous storage environment, he says.

Separately, ARA plans to upgrade its picture archiving and communication system (supplied by Fujifilm Medical Systems U.S.A.) to allow the group to delete images that no longer have to be stored in the system. “It’s our hope that at some point we will get to a steady state, where the amount of cases I’m ingesting is equal to the amount of cases I’m legally allowed to delete,” Thomas says. “That will help us reign in the ever-expanding storage cluster we have for medical images.”

The October issue of Healthcare Informatics will feature coverage of data storage.