Data storage of top concern to healthcare providers

Bill Burns, Senior Director of the World Wide Healthcare Solutions Group at HDS

With the introduction of electronic health records, health data storage is expected to be high on providers' to-do lists. However, storing this data will be challenging, said Bill Burns, senior director for Hitachi Data Systems.

"The problem is split into two parts," said Burns. "The first 50 percent of the problem is the IT issue – how do I manage, back up, secure it? The second is how to integrate the technology with other applications at the provider's facility."

Burns said that when it comes to data in healthcare, he is seeing a trend shift. The largest amount of data (Excel files, videos, clinical images) are what is called unstructured file data, said Burns. This kind of data is expected to grow with the digitization of medical records and will be hard to store and secure.

"Right now, the explosion of data in healthcare is unstructured medical data, not block data," Burns continued. "All of this unstructured, messy data is hard to move around and back up. And, having trouble accessing it means providers will have a hard time getting a wide, accurate view of a patient's medical history."

According to Burns, the first thing providers need to ask is, "how much space do we need?" With the amount of digital images and other information that is expected to be stored and shared, data storage space will need to be considered.

"What providers really need to think about is how much is enough," said Burns. "Provider information systems generate a lot of medical data and the big question is, 'how much do I save?' Does the physician save those 40 hi-res images of the patient's eye, or just a couple? This will be run-away growth, and the file/volume sizes are going to be large."

With HIPAA 5010 approaching, security is expected to be a hot topic as well. In addition to the storage of this unstructured data, who can access it and from where will be top priority for providers. "This is very high on providers' to-do lists," Burns said. "And it's not necessarily just data storage as it is data aggregation."

Providers do have some options when it comes to where the data will be stored. Cloud computing is one example that is said to have large potential.

"Cloud computing techniques are going to play a big role and health information exchanges are going to get bigger and better," said Burns. "Local hospitals may opt to create their own private cloud for the storage of sensitive data. With this comes the fact that HIEs are here to stay, and will be successful."

Burns said that the storage and exchange of this complex data "might not be super fast at first, but you can see the promise."