Health IT Has 99 Data Problems, and Storage Management Is One of Them

Data is quickly becoming one of the most important assets — and concerns — of IT organizations. But it’s not just the data itself that’s essential; it’s also about how data is collected, stored and backed up.

A recent report sponsored by Iron Mountain, a storage and information management company, presented the results of a survey of health information technology (HIT) professionals about their data concerns and top priorities for the coming years.

The white paper, 2014 HIMSS Analytics Report – The Perfect Storm: Navigating the Health IT Archiving and Data Management Challenge, represents a survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics, a company that aims “to provide the highest quality data and analytical expertise to support improved decision-making for healthcare providers, healthcare IT companies and consulting firms.”

One hundred and fifty IT executives from randomly selected U.S. hospitals were surveyed. The respondents had to play a role in at least one of the following categories: disaster planning, purchasing of data systems or responsibility of data management.

The IT executives represented three key market segments: under 150 beds, 150–500 beds and 500-plus beds. CIOs made up 59 percent of the respondents, and IT directors accounted for 37 percent. The remaining classifications were VP of technology and CTO.

The study covers a lot of ground, and one thing it touches on is IT leaders’ fears about managing the explosion of data in modern health IT.

“It is our opinion that managing the exponential proliferation of data (e.g. storage, data back‐ups and archiving) is the next ‘monster’ hiding underneath the IT leader’s bed,” the report states.

Sifting Through the Latest Health IT Findings

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the survey’s findings, the report points out some immediate data concerns. Because of increased healthcare regulations and requirements, diagnostic codes will quadruple. This directly translates into an increase in the data storage of any healthcare organization. Similarly, data capture and sharing requirements are putting increased pressure on healthcare organizations to develop systems to better handle collected and archived data in general.

Migrating from paper-based environments to digital collection and storage, puts much more emphasis and dependency on how, where and for what purpose data is collected.

Below is my high-level summary of the report. I encourage you to review it yourself for the complete analysis.

Data Storage and Access Needs Depend on Hospital Size

Respondents estimated the percentage of data access over specific time points across three specific data types (clinical, operational and laboratory). Interestingly, a majority of data was accessed only in the last six months and declined over three years. This was true for all three outlined data-type categories.

A majority of the data accessed was considered “active,” meaning it was stored onsite for immediate access. Clinical data tended to be the most “active” data type that was accessed, and an average of 43 terabytes was stored onsite to accomplish this. Larger hospitals (500-plus beds) stored large amounts (200 terabytes). Operational data represented about 17 terabytes (65 terabytes for large hospitals), and laboratory data was approximately 11 terabytes (28 terabytes for large hospitals).

In the larger hospitals, imaging technology was the primary cause of the large storage allotments; in smaller hospitals it was due to new EMR (Emergency Medical Retrieval) standards.

Other key survey highlights:

  • 46 percent of respondents said that data storage represented more than six percent of their IT budget.
  • 67 percent of small or midsized hospitals use storage area networks (SANs); 100 percent of large hospitals use SANs.
  • 24 percent of respondents use cloud computing storage; tape and disc storage was 62 percent.
  • 48 percent of respondents replicate their data center and applications.
  • 33 percent of respondents had capability to share the stored data.

Data Backup and Archiving Remains a Challenge

Critical to any data-heavy business is the ability to regularly and completely back up various data stores. This is not something specific to the healthcare industry alone. In fact, having a backup routine and procedure should be a requirement of any organization.

Of the health IT leaders surveyed, 42 percent said they use a variety of backup approaches that include backing up all onsite data within their facility, replicating to an offsite data center or replicating data onsite.

The healthcare industry has robust data archival requirements. Again, this can apply to other types of organizations — financial, for example — that handle large amounts of data. More than half of the respondents said that they did have an archival strategy; 46 percent said they did not.

Often, it is difficult to understand what, exactly, is deemed as “archival data,” but some of this is outlined by regulatory compliance. Most health IT leaders (83 percent) said they have an archival strategy in place because of compliance requirements.

While healthcare is heavily regulated, the data shows that compliance alone isn’t forcing archival and backup implementation and adoption.

Data Recovery and Business Continuity Needs to Be Tested

If your customers’ or patients’ data is critical, disaster recovery and business-continuity plans should be viewed as mission critical, too. Lost data can be gone forever, and when it comes to patient data, the patient might not be so understanding about the loss of potentially lifesaving information from his or her record.

Of the health IT professionals surveyed, 69 percent said they have disaster recovery solutions in place, and 66 percent have a business-continuity strategy lined up. Here are some additional highlights:

  • 82 percent comply with HIPAA guidelines.
  • 46 percent test their strategy annually.
  • 18 percent test semiannually.
  • 19 percent don’t test regularly.
  • 21 percent have experienced a disaster recovery or data loss event.

The results of this healthcare survey highlight the importance of data, and the fact that there are a variety of strategies across the industry. While larger healthcare organizations tend to have more robust strategies, the amount of associated data makes those strategies more complex. Healthcare is heavily regulated, which means that these organizations are frequently forced down particular IT paths.

IT professionals should carefully review what is mission critical: Is it the infrastructure running the organization, or is it the underlying collected data? Companies need to pay close attention to what data is being collected, how it is being stored and archived and how it can be used in the future to drive business success.

[image: Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/ThinkStockPhotos]