Battling the medical data bulge

Explosive growth of medical data may be a boon to patient care, but it’s often the bane of IT professionals tasked with managing increasingly unwieldy data volumes. There are indications that medical data doubles every year, in some cases lasting longer than the hardware it is stored on. If exponential data growth is the problem, Hewlett-Packard Inc. (HP) is confident it has the antidote.

The company recently introduced its Medical Archiving System – designed to store and streamline access to image data. With a centralized repository physicians in multiple locations can also collaborate on diagnoses, bringing in specialists as needed.

With most existing wide area network (WAN) solutions data transfer speeds are extremely slow. With medical imaging files often exceeding 500MB, a download can take four or five minutes. If a doctor moves to another location in the hospital the task would have to be repeated.

David Mosher, business manager, public sector with HP Canada Co., said part of the appeal of Medical Archive solution on a WAN is that data is streamed (faster downloads) and is cached locally, so subsequent viewings are “lightning fast.”

He said the ability to view files very quickly (ideally it is always stored on disk and is never archived on tape) has practical implications in the diagnosis process. If an image takes too long to view doctors may choose to look at the only the most recent image, instead of a whole bunch to make comparisons, Mosher said.

Doctors access images using a traditional viewer application (as they did in the past) except now the actual image may be stored hundreds of kilometers away. The viewer connects to a Canadian-made application from ByCast Inc. called StorageGRID (licensed exclusively to HP). The application in turn accesses the data wherever it is stored, Mosher said. ByCast is robust enough for hospitals to set policies around images so that the most frequent (first and last is also a common combination) are always stored on the fastest disks for the shortest access times, Mosher said.

Since building a medical archiving system can cost millions, the solutions are often purchased by a network of hospitals covering a geographically disperse areas. The federal government has also invested heavily in improving access to medical records so that has also helped adoption, Mosher said. From a global perspective Canada is also in an enviable position. “I’d say that we’re really leading the world,” Mosher said.

The HP solution can handle images taken by a wide array of technologies, from traditional x-rays to more advanced CT and MRI systems, according to the company and storage can be scaled to two petabytes. The solution is built on HP ProLiant servers and x86 processors and uses Bycast Inc.’s fixed content StorageGRID to access the data. The data is stored on HP’s Storage Works Modular Smart Arrays.

Mosher said the solutions running in Canada are all managed by the hospitals themselves, though HP could manage the systems if requested.

Several Canadian medical facilities are using Medical Archive, Mosher said. They include Vancouver Hospital, the Provincial Health Services Authority, BC Cancer Agency and Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia.

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