Healthcare Storage Makeovers: Execs Share Secrets - InformationWeek

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Healthcare Storage Makeovers: Execs Share Secrets

Overhauling their picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) and virtualization environments helped these healthcare execs stem user complaints and save their organizations money.

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By re-examining their storage solutions, healthcare IT professionals can save their organizations money and time. 

From reviewing proprietary approaches to picture archiving and communication system (PACS) to expanding virtualized systems, innovative healthcare CIOs are reviewing how new storage technologies can benefit their organizations. Data continues to grow -- both in size and scope, as more departments add imaging and electronic files -- and hospitals grapple with islands of PACS, scattered across multiple departments.

Storage accounted for about 16% of healthcare and pharmaceutical IT budgets in the first half of 2014, according to 451 Research. Energy and utilities firms allocated 27% of their tech budgets to storage; materials and chemicals businesses spent a paltry 4% on storage, researchers found. On average, IT spending reached 13.5%, versus 9.5% the prior period, the survey said. Across the board, respondents said they were asked to do more with less and deliver more value to their business.

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Here's a look at how several healthcare IT professionals managed to do just that.

Breaking the purchased storage habit
Sentara Healthcare's PACS was expensive -- and only getting more costly, said Trent Conwell, technical manager of integration architecture at Sentara. Each hospital department, such as radiology and cardiology, ran its own PAC, requiring separate upkeep, management, and maintenance, and systems did not communicate with each other, he said. In addition, Sentara paid PACS vendors for image storage, a costly and rapidly expanding proposition. Images are growing in size and quantity, more departments are going digital, Sentara is on an acquisitive streak, and technology is advancing, said Conwell. Without IT's intervention, PACS costs would become unmanageable.

With so much attention paid to mandated IT initiatives involving electronic medical records and Meaningful Use, it can be challenging for healthcare CIOs and IT executives to create urgency or buy-in for unrelated projects. But Sentara's executives were enthusiastic about the solution IT recommended: a centralized system that promised strong early returns -- and an even bigger long-term return on investment, Conwell said.

(Source: 451 Research)
(Source: 451 Research)

"Pound for pound your imaging systems are the most complex systems in your organization. Given the number of full-time employees you usually have to support these imaging systems compared with other systems, it's more complex than an EMR. We'll flood people to support an EMR or cardiology system; you'll find a handful of IT people or less supporting a PACS system," he said. "You'll find lots of bolt-ons and with that, the complexity continues to grow and with that the costs continue to grow."

Working with Ascendian Healthcare Consulting, Sentara determined its new PACS had to be open, communicative, and centrally managed -- and not use storage from a PACS vendor, he said. The 125-year-old healthcare system opted for vendor neutral archive (VNA), which immediately delivered savings. Sentara, which now owns and stores every digital image it takes, uses information life cycle (ILM) rules -- which PACS vendors might not support -- to eliminate or compress images, thereby saving on storage, added Conwell.

Last, the organization "moved into a non-proprietary format so we can take on the movement of images as we see fit," he said. "We wanted to remove all the proprietary tags out of these proprietary radiology images. Just by bringing radiology into the VNA, we got storage savings, ILM savings, and the ability to move images. At the end of the day, we wrapped that into a business case and we had a 16% positive ROI for this initial phase alone."

And that's just the beginning, Conwell said. The healthcare organization is incorporating all PACS into the VNA and ILM, and empowering authorized users to move all images, he said. In addition, Sentara chose Mach7 Technologies' Enterprise Imaging Platform, which allows different departments to choose or keep their own viewer but gives IT the centralized management it needs to control costs, standards, and

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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