I often frequent leading hospital and medical facilities and have the opportunity to meet with and discuss everyday healthcare information technology issues with all levels of administrative and clerical staff.
Of the many and varied concerns, the issue of access to medical records (such as image management and healthcare data storage) often comes up as a top subject of conversation. Data center personnel and others tasked with the direct handling of health records ping-pong these kinds of messages on a daily basis, back and forth, with no visible impending solution:
- "Why are CDs still the go to method of image exchange for facilities? They're always getting misplaced, are sloppily labeled (if at all), and easily scratched and chipped.."
- " .. and if and when they finally do upload - the files are often not even compatible with the doctor's system .."
Even at the administrator level, I hear clear frustration with statements like:
- "How do they expect me to support multiple systems to access patient healthcare datasets and data imaging in multiple formats?"
- "My healthcare information systems are out-of-date, but my allocated budget won't permit me to invest in new equipment."
The Coming Storm Cloud
The good news, just a few years ago, was that healthcare technology advanced quickly and successfully to offer a large number of great solutions in video and other medical imaging needs. This included the onsite medical imaging technology used to store and share images, known as the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS).
The bad news today, is that all that potentially useful information is (almost) useless data if it all resides in multiple incompatible systems - and sits on outdated and unstable systems. The catch-up regarding big data in healthcare requirements for the massive amounts of accumulated data, is just not happening quickly enough in many healthcare information management systems, and the consequences may become dire.
This certainly makes for a very complex, if not impossible situation for network administrators and personnel trying to maintain what they have, while simultaneously planning for the future.
Hospitals and medical facilities need to develop realistic and secure disaster recovery and business continuity plans if their PACS should fail.
The Good Solution Cloud
Setting a goal to future-proof your medical imaging and data storage, is the next great leap forward for your data center. The data center staff is already adept at using modern technology to resolve big data storage issues. Storage was never the problem - the pain points were regarding medical records management data access, using the data coherently to generate healthcare data analytics, and upholding healthcare compliance as per HIPAA/HITECH.
The real challenge, then, is in finding the correct open platform that is flexible and compatible with health information management needs.
The technology of Cloud computing immediately comes to mind. It opens up significant opportunities for healthcare organizations, both large and small, to transform their medical applications data to state-of-the art highly accessible information for improved productivity and efficiency.
Cloud storage health data management solutions offer numerous benefits over other options in terms of upgrading technology in the future and in particular, thanks to the tech being vendor-neutral. Cloud technology ensures a better user experience.
Not only will the doctor and the patient have a better session vis-a-vis pulling up past history, images, and so forth, but the patient will have improved access to his/her own files and medical data - or to healthcare information, say of a family member (given the right authorization level, password, etc.). Other staff, such as nurses and physician assistants will be able to update or access relevant medical data - including improved collaboration with other healthcare facilities, or deal with clerical issues, such as scheduling, accounting, and so forth.
Of course, all of the data access via the Cloud will also include many security benefits not readily available with other solutions. Of particular interest is data recovery from remote backup sites (transparent to the user) and business continuity, so users can continue working even when there are network issues or disaster scenarios.
A growing number of hospital and enterprise facilities have already made the move, or are considering it, or are actually in the process of moving towards the adoption of the Cloud as the optimum solution for their image management, data storage, and disaster recovery plans.
A key reason for the move, seems to be financial, as healthcare systems are quickly moving towards adopting a new paradigm of value-based care-giving. This new approach to healthcare services will require greater cost control, and place pressure on reimbursements - thus forcing health centers to be more cost-efficient and effective, given their constrained and overseen budgets. As a providential windfall, this will also work to speed up the elimination of outdated and wasteful duplicate systems such as those that support your current medical imaging repository.
Go With the Flow
By applying the technology from electronic health record (EHR) systems to PACS on the Cloud, you are empowered with improved management of your medical records and images, by implementing a straightforward workflow to exchange medical records with external providers - as and when required.
The enhanced workflows will support all medical and healthcare-oriented modalities, such as X-ray, MR, echo, and even large CT (tomography) studies, and they will promote a fast and efficient medical record exchange among healthcare providers.
For example, although load balancing for DICOM (the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine standard) is considered challenging and difficult, there are some good Cloud-based solutions. One method is an HA proxy solution that enables a round robin of an IP address to x number of workers, and once the threshold is exceeded, it will spin up additional access. This is a true Cloud solution that in addition to handling DICOM with the local data-centers, it even empowers spanning across remote data-centers (e.g. one in New York and one in Texas).
A second method is a local high performance DICOM router that will receive the DICOM sessions and then stream them to the storage servers. This is a lower cost solution in that you could have a router per modality to increase performance and distribute risk/load. In addition, since they pull the configuration from the Cloud, they are expendable (and if there is a problem, you can rebuild a system in less than 5 minutes). Since images are replaced on reboot, every time the system is rebooted, it presents a clean system image (which also addresses a number of other issues).
New, modern, Cloud-based healthcare data management systems have been especially built to address medical record management and data storage on the Internet with enhanced workflows and have been further reinforced by HIPAA compliant Cloud support.
These Cloud-based systems incorporate easy to use routing rules that will improve productivity via automated processes for medical record and image exchange. They enable effective access to medical data within EMR and RIS systems thanks to the Cloud's OpenStack operating system and a robust set of open source APIs.
Cutting costs by reducing or eliminating physical equipment (and the need to replace, maintain, run, and cool them) - is another reason for considering Cloud as a relevant option.
When coupled with a scalable vendor-neutral archiving, and the ability to access and view image data remotely (from anywhere and at any time) this will raise the users to new levels of healthcare efficiency.
The Future is in the Cloud
In order for healthcare data management to be viable, efficient, and cost-effective, serious long-term planning is required. The daily struggle of dealing with obsolete methods for medical records storage and access require better healthcare data solutions.
The Cloud is proving itself to be just such a solution - and in a major way. It is being adopted by an increasing number of healthcare services (and related service industries). The ROI and long-term cost reduction greatly outweigh short term solutions. Moving up to the Cloud ensures an efficient and long-lasting future-proof service offering.
Zulucare Cloud know-how in the healthcare domain is at your disposal.