Hospitals not ready for swell of data to come

By Mike Miliard
10:32 AM

A survey sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and Dell  has found that the data centers of small and medium-sized hospitals in North America, Europe, and China are not prepared for the "wave of data" that will soon be inundating them.

Speaking on a conference call on Wednesday, Jeremy T. Bonfini, senior vice president, global services for HIMSS indicated that several global "megatrends," including the "aging wave, the increasing demand on regulatory security, and the rise of home care" will massively increase the amount of data that CIOs and directors of IT are "going to have to deal with."

The verdict on hospitals' readiness to handle this additional demand – including the capability of data centers to store and process the workloads necessitated by the ever-increasing resolution of EMR images – is mixed as countries spend billions to implement healthcare IT.

Among the issues reported by IT executives:

  • In the US, regulatory issues and compliance requirements were cited as significant hurdles. Server proliferation –  small and medium providers averaged 75 servers per hospital – and application complexity made for further complication.
  • In the UK, financial and budget issues were a major source of concern, as was the scaling and management of storage.
  • In China, lack of capacity (an average of just four servers per hospital), lack of standards, and aging servers were worrisome to IT executives.
  • In Canada, staffing challenges and data security were frequently mentioned. In France, rapid data growth (expected to increase by 50 percent over the next two years, twice as fast as other countries) was problematic. In Germany, little use of virtualization suggested an incomplete utilization of newer technologies.

In response, Dell put forth a six-point action plan that all small and medium hospitals could follow to improve efficiency and scalability:

  • Eliminate complexity
  • Invest, but invest wisely
  • Virtualize now to prevent server and storage proliferation
  • Consider alternative models
  • Automate routine management tasks
  • Tier data effectively

For all the very real challenges currently facing CIOs and their data centers, however, it's remarkable how far some hospitals' IT management has come in just a short time.

On Wednesday, speaking from the UK,  Zafar Chaudry, MD, CIO of the Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust, recalled that, in 2005, "we did an assessment of what actually was going on in [our] organization, and what we found was that there were PCs everywhere ... what we would call service sprawl. Many clinical staff had taken it upon themselves to order systems; finding that IT weren't very cooperative, they were just buying systems and running them on PCs under their desks. There was data everywhere. I even found medical secretaries with data on floppy disks."