My Healthcare Data is Where?

Blog 11292017_v3According to IDC, healthcare data is one of the fastest growing segments of the digital universe – growing from 153 exabytes in 2013 to an estimated 2,314 exabytes in 2020, a 48% annual growth rate. So where will the healthcare industry put all of this critical and sensitive data and how long must it be held?

What’s driving this data growth?
Diagnostic devices such as CT Scanners, MRI machines, and X-ray machines generate huge amounts of imaging data. And as the technology improves, the images get even bigger. The challenge with these images is they must be saved for diagnostic activities and regulatory compliance. A patchwork of country and local regulations specify how long healthcare providers must maintain patient data including diagnostic images. Complicating the data storage issue, several years ago new healthcare regulations directed all patient health records must be converted to electronic formats.

A Picture is worth megabytes
The need for data storage is immense and growing rapidly. Over 600 million imaging procedures are performed each year by U.S. based  health-care providers including CT scans, X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs.

Hospitals are generally required to keep images for seven years, but many keep them much longer. They also retain backup copies as part of disaster-recovery planning and to comply with the federal health-care privacy laws. As a result, image archives are increasing by as much as 40% annually.

The IoT and healthcare
As the Internet of Things (IoT) has gained a sizable foothold in business environments, the healthcare industry has also experienced a growing incursion. These connected devices generate growing amounts of data which are causing data management and storage problems for the healthcare industry. Examples of healthcare IoT devices are:

  • Patient monitors
  • Drug delivery systems
  • In-room devices such as monitors and controls
  • RFID readers
  • Tracking devices and sensors for physiological measurements
  • Video cameras

These and future devices will generate huge amounts of data subject to regulatory and legal requirements. The question is; can these new data sources be captured, secured, indexed and searched, exported, and managed for the long term? Another issue the healthcare industry is facing is how to handle the expanding variety of data formats from these devices. Can the different data formats be stored in a common archive and made easily searchable?

Dark data is valueless (and dangerous) data
Because much of this IoT data is not yet stored centrally, as much as 80% is considered “dark data” because it is cannot be easily managed, searched, and exported for analysis. To be useful as well as meet regulatory requirements, data needs to be captured, secured, tagged, and stored so that it can be managed and searched efficiently. Because data is now coming from numerous dissimilar sources, it will either need to be converted into a common format or, be managed by a system that can recognize and work with the varying data formats.

The healthcare industry is still not protecting its data appropriately. According to IDC, 93% of all healthcare data reaches the level of stringent regulatory protection, however, they estimate only 57% is “somewhat protected” and 43% is not “adequately protected.” A lack of effective security dramatically raises liability for healthcare organizations. The consequences of a data breach and loss includes extremely large financial penalties, legal costs, and negative public opinion. For example, the regulatory penalties from the two most recognizable U.S. healthcare regulations, HIPAA and HITECH, include huge fines for privacy violations, e.g. with the introduction of the HITECH act, the maximum penalty per identical violation per calendar year is now $1.5 million.

With the quantities of data being generated by the healthcare industry, the regulatory climate and the specter of very public lawsuits again raises the original question; where will the healthcare industry store and protect all of this critical and sensitive data? In today’s climate, his question carries a much higher priority to solve.

Secure, scalable, inexpensive: the cloud is the only viable solution
As I have alluded to, healthcare data storage requirements are quadrupling every three years. This tidal wave of electronic medical information, including unstructured data, the IoT, and imaging records, will continue to put tremendous strain on individual healthcare data centers. In reality, the cloud offers the only viable solution for the out-of-control growth of healthcare industry data.

So if the cloud is the eventual destination for all medical data, what should healthcare organizations consider when creating their overall cloud strategy?

The first step in beginning a cloud strategy should be to fully understand what data is being generated and where it resides. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, up to 80% of healthcare data is “dark” – because it is spread across numerous single point repositories and cannot be easily managed, searched, or exported for analysis, regulatory request, or eDiscovery.

Questions to address before you start purchasing technology include:

  • Strategy related questions
    Where are all of the devices and locations where your organization’s healthcare data can be found?
  • What type of storage is it residing on?
  • Does the data storage meet current regulatory requirements?
  • What is the fully loaded annual cost of storing, securing and searching your data?
  • What would these costs (estimated) be if you moved to a cloud solution?
  • What would it cost (and what are the benefits) of centralizing all healthcare data so it can be automatically moved to a cloud solution?
  • Should you migrate all of your current data to the cloud, or keep it in your current on premise system and only move new data to the cloud?

To migrate or not to migrate – the answer is obvious
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