Medical-image Archiving: Concerns, Methods, and Emerging Solutions

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It’s no secret that health-care IT professionals are struggling to keep up with the storage demands placed on them by medical imaging. As imaging utilization continues to increase and the amount of data associated with a single image set continues to rise, maintaining a patient’s radiological history (as mandated by HIPAA) becomes more costly and challenging for health-care organizations.

A survey of 568 health-care IT professionals conducted in Orlando, Florida, at the February 2011 meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) assessed how organizations are dealing with these problems and whether they are open to embracing emerging solutions in storage management.

Conducted by Dimensional Research (Sunnyvale, California) and sponsored by Symantec Corp (Mountain View, California), the survey queried health-care IT professionals on such topics as disaster recovery and business continuity, HIPAA compliance, their preferred storage media, whether they are leveraging or plan to leverage cloud-based solutions, and more. Survey participants represented organizations ranging from imaging centers and radiology practices to hospitals and multihospital health systems.

Principal Concerns

When asked what keeps them up at night with regard to medical-image storage, 41% of survey participants report that HIPAA compliance is a key concern of theirs (Figure 1). HIPAA mandates govern the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic patient health information, requiring that these data be made available to authorized users, that they be accessible in a timely manner when needed, and that two copies of the information exist at all times, providing a backup in case a copy is accidentally destroyed.

HIPAA further mandates that duplicate information be stored in a data center located more than 100 miles from the health-care organization’s primary data center, to ensure that a natural disaster would not be capable of taking out both data centers at the same time. Only 31% of survey respondents indicate, however, that their data centers are located more than 100 miles apart.

It is not surprising, then, that 55% of respondents report that one of their key concerns is disaster recovery, making it the number-one concern cited in the survey. Although 82% say that they keep two or more copies of all medical images in their archives, the worry that this information will not be recoverable in the event of a catastrophe persists.

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Figure 1. What keeps health-care IT professionals up at night.

Other leading concerns cited by those responding to the survey are providing physicians with better access to images (30%), reducing costs (22%), and reducing dependence on PACS vendors (10%). The survey also found that hospitals are less likely to be compliant with HIPAA mandates than freestanding imaging centers or radiology practices are, perhaps because the latter two types of organization are more likely to outsource some or all of their archiving to a third-party provider.

Only 20% of hospitals store their archives in multiple locations more than 100 miles apart, while 36% of freestanding imaging centers and radiology practices do. Of those surveyed, 33% report that they have only one data center for their medical-image archives.

Current Methods and Emerging Solutions

The vast majority (84%) of those surveyed indicate that their organizations are using hard drives or spinning disks as their principal form of storage media, while 42% also use tape or CD (and 9% report still using film). Respondents were also asked to identify their primary vendors for storage media; 38% answer EMC (Hopkinton, Massachusetts), 34% answer IBM (Armonk, New York), 31% answer Dell (Round Rock, Texas), and 27% answer HP (Palo Alto, California).

Only 9% of respondents say that they are currently using a cloud-based vendor for storage (Figure 2). Another 49%, however, say that they were planning to use cloud-based storage solutions in the future, while 42% say that they are not planning to use cloud-based solutions soon.

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Figure 2. Using the cloud for image archiving.

Those participants not using or considering using cloud-based storage solutions were asked about their principal concerns regarding these methods of storage management (Figure 3). Just over 30% cite security concerns, while 25% cite worries about performance.

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Figure 3. Concerns about cloud storage.

Another 19% say that they are concerned