Solving Healthcare’s Patchwork Problem with a New Storage Approach

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By Candida Valois, Americas field CTO, Scality

As healthcare organizations continue to merge, they end up with numerous locations within one network that are all using different tools and solutions. That makes it more difficult to find storage solutions that will fit in with this patchwork. At the same time, the healthcare industry is grappling with massive amounts of data; by some estimates, healthcare produces some 30% of the world’s electronic data. Not only is there a ton of data to be managed, but there’s also a ton of data in need of backup and resilience.

In short, healthcare has a data storage problem that’s been exacerbated by a patchwork of disparate tools and solutions. Let’s look at the current challenges and solutions to this important issue.

Healthcare’s data challenges 

The healthcare industry produces an enormous amount of data, with no sign of slowing its growth. It’s estimated that by 2025, the compound annual growth rate of healthcare data will reach 36% — that’s 6% faster than manufacturing, 10% faster than financial services, and 11% faster than media and entertainment.

The passage of the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated that healthcare practitioners adopt electronic records, creating a wealth of digital information about patients, practices and procedures. On top of that, in the past two years, driven by the pandemic, we’ve also seen a significant rise in telehealth – increasing concerns about data security.

This proliferation of health data brings with it a variety of security and privacy concerns, limited flexibility, shadow IT issues and tremendous cost-savings pressure. One of the biggest challenges and arguably the most important is that the  industry also has been plagued by ransomware; 34% of healthcare organizations were hit by ransomware in the last year, according to a report by Sophos. Another challenge is that departmental PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) and storage silos make consistent data management, security and availability a huge challenge. 

Disparate solutions in disparate locations

In addition to all these data and security challenges already being faced by the healthcare sector, the pandemic hasn’t completely slowed down consolidation and M&A activity. According to a study released in July by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), 15% of practices completed M&A activity in the past year. And of the 49 medical practices providing detail on their M&A activity in the past year, more than 69% were involved in mergers, joint ventures or acquiring new practices; 22% sold their practice to a hospital or health system.

As a result, we’re seeing more and more different locations within healthcare organizations’ networks – and many of them are coming with their own solutions, systems and tools in place – not to mention all of that underlying data. The acquisitions and mergers have often resulted in a patchwork of different tools and solutions. These newly formed organizations need a new approach to data storage – one that can address all these factors.

How modern object storage solutions help

Both individual patient care and institutional efficiency require having the right storage in place for healthcare data. For clinicians to make faster, more accurate diagnoses and to help researchers develop life-changing therapies, they must have access to massive amounts of data collected over long periods of time. Extracting insights and patterns from historical studies has massive benefits in how patients are treated over the course of decades and lifetimes. 

Healthcare organizations also face compliance requirements (such as HIPAA), which require providers to retain data for the long term, even patient lifetimes. Regulatory oversight governing retention, availability, privacy and security is increasing. That’s for a good reason – the healthcare sector has been hit heavily by ransomware and other types of data breaches for years.

Healthcare firms need to store other types of data in hospitals, backups of patient databases, video surveillance data – and mountains of documents. Since this data is growing so fast, the cost of medical image storage is becoming a much more prominent part of budgets; currently, 7.5-10% of total medical costs are imaging-related. So, finding new and more efficient ways to store and protect this data is essential.

Modern object storage solutions can help make it easier to access this data across all different systems and locations. Acting as a single, distributed system, an object storage solution can scale linearly across thousands of servers, multiple sites and an unlimited number of objects. It can work with the applications that healthcare institutions already use, including PACS, VNAs, backup applications and more. 

Another aspect of object storage is that it provides data immutability, which means that any writes to an existing object will retain the previous version before storing the new version. This provides recovery capability for the previous version state of the object. You also can store objects using the write-once-read-many (WORM) model, which will prevent objects from being deleted or overwritten until retention is met – or forever. 

For all these reasons (and more,) software-based, scale-out object storage solutions are seeing increased adoption in the healthcare industry. These solutions offer major advantages in time-to-deploy, scaling to address data growth, access time to image data and, ultimately, major reductions in total cost of ownership (TCO).  

Goodbye, storage siloes

There’s seemingly no end to the data deluge. In fact, projections show it’s only going to increase, and healthcare organizations need their data to be secure, private and readily available to serve the company as well as their clients. Today’s object storage solutions operate on a new paradigm that removes siloes and lowers total cost of ownership while increasing scalability and accessibility. It’s an important option for the healthcare industry to explore.

About the author 

Candida Valois is Americas Field CTO for Scality, a world leader in object and cloud storage. Candida is an IT specialist with 20+ years of IT experience in architecture, development of software, services, and sales for various industries. She is passionate about technology and delivering valuable solutions.