Managing the Exponential Growth in Healthcare Data: Ep 2, HealthcareTalks

Topics: Healthcare IT Management


How can a health system stay on top of the exponential growth in healthcare data?

KR: Hospital systems today are facing an information explosion. It's not really fully recognized by executives in healthcare. In fact we go into healthcare systems all the time, and we ask the simple question, "How much data do you have and how much does it cost to manage it?" Frankly, we get a lot of head scratching. These hospital systems that we run into, they know what they spend on rubber gloves and bedpans, but they don't know what it costs to manage storage, which is about 15 percent of their total IT budget. So the reality is that information in hospital systems, at least electronic information is growing by about 40 percent on an compounded annual growth rate basis. That is a mind-boggling, explosive growth rate. In fact, some applications, such as EMRs, are growing up to 70 percent per year.

So if you do the math, it is not practical to keep every byte of data online, millisecond access, for all of eternity. That does not make sense. I think everyone would recognize that there just isn't enough data space capacity, and enough storage capacity to make that affordable.

So what do you do?

Organizations have to snap a line and decide when they archive their data. And so the way you go about thinking about that is that you have to analyze your data, and understand based on its access requirements and its retention requirements, where should they really reside. And when you go through that analysis, that access analysis across all the applications that you have, one conclusion will come through loud and clear we believe. And that is that, in reality, most of the data that exists in a hospital system is really truly archival data.

About 95 percent of the data that is created never gets retrieved. Period. So it's automatically archival. And then what is retrieved – well over 90 percent of what is retrieved – is 18 months old or newer. So if you draw a line at 18 months, just for example, you could technically archive your data after that, and have a much lower cost infrastructure.

The economics are that there's about a 10x difference between the tiers – between say a tier-1, which is an expensive high-performing disk-based system, versus an archive layer which is less expensive. So what we're recommending to organizations is to analyze their data, segment their data, create a tiering structure that matches their access requirements, and then to create the right set of policies to determine when things are cascaded down through their storage systems. And when you do that, and you store things at the right tier, you have no compromises. Your doctors, your clinicians, can still get access on an as-needed basis. And you're spending money in the high-activity area, but the information that is truly archival, you've tiered it down and you're saving a lot of money.

Our experience is that when organizations implement this enterprise archiving concept, they can save between 30 and 40 percent of their overall storage expenses. That's a great example of some of the hidden expense work that can be done in healthcare if you look for it.