IBM Says Growth in Medical Imaging Will Require New Data Storage Strategies


Tom Fricks, CIO of the Atlanta-based Harbin Clinic, never thought his storage worries would mushroom from  megabytes or gigabytes to terabytes of information. But that's precisely what the emergence of PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication Systems) has imposed.

Working with information-heavy radiology files, such as those for MRIs, CT scans, and X-Rays, has presented new challenges for Fricks and others medical IT execs, where the transition to PACS sends storage volumes and expenses skyrocketing, while slowing image retrieval time.

Fricks was a presenter at last Friday's IBM's Health Care Data Summit in Cambridge, Mass., which predicted an upcoming digital information overload for the health care and life sciences industries. Medical centers will be forced to adopt new approaches to storing and managing vast quantities of data, especially with the evolution of medical imaging technology.

"It's all about dealing with the volume and complexity of disparate data, and turning it into actionable insight that can be used today as well as archiving for potential uses down the road," says Mike Svinte, vice president of IBM Global Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences. IBM is pitching storage virtualization as an effective strategy for dealing with data overload.

Fricks, for example, shifted away from server-based storage to a storage area network (SAN). This included using IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager as a back-up solution, as well as scalable, high-capacity disc storage. "We now have better utilization of hardware resources, quick recovery from system failure, and redundancies to the Nth degree," he says.

The current PACS landscape, says IBM, is littered with isolated islands of applications and proliferation of proprietary systems. One result is the current medical imaging challenge isn't just about seeing the image, but also about capturing meta information associated with the file, and the need to protect security and confidentiality.

Given the expected growth of medical imaging applications, such as for genomic  biomarkers, "medical image storage needs to be easy to manage and administer, have easy migration to new hardware, automated recovery, be affordable, and have an archive that's always available," says Richard Bakalar, chief medical officer of IBM.

Too often, says Clod Barrera, an IBM engineer, health care organizations add layers of technological implementation and depend unrealistically on the actual physical devices being managed by each individual application above. A better infrastructure, he says, is storage virtualization, which relies heavily on software to manage multiple physical storage devices and simplify access and retrieval.

There was general agreement by Summit speakers that transformation of the health care system will depend in considerable measure on upgraded data management and storage strategies. "In other industries, we don't see the complexity and amount of data that we see in health care," says Svinte. "It's difficult because we don't know which data is important, and there's a need for sophisticated analytics. In order to create patient-centric network, it all starts with a foundation of data."

Joe Jasinski, IBM program director of health care and life sciences, broadly described industry and IBM efforts to create data and storage management solutions, citing IBM's Interoperable Health Information Infrastructure, and Eclipse Open Health care Framework as examples.

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