Hospitals strive for centralized image archives


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New regulations mandate the digitization and retention of medical records, leaving hospital IT pros looking to cut costs by centralizing image archives. But there are many technical and political hurdles to overcome.

Hospital and medical center IT departments are struggling to control the storage of electronic medical images as new regulations require digitization and retention of medical records. Many of the issues related to these efforts will be familiar to enterprise IT pros in other industries, from application integration and centralization of IT assets for delivery as a service to internal customers, to coping with regulatory requirements that contribute to data growth.

But when it comes to the healthcare sector, the same decisions are magnified because the business is literally life and death. Hospital IT managers say that in addition to technical integration issues, interdepartmental politics, and the question of who will assume the risk for the creation and preservation of medical image data make the effort to bring image data under more efficient centralized control an uphill battle.

As healthcare IT has evolved, users say data storage systems for different imaging systems, such as X-rays and cardiology images, have been purchased by the department running each picture archiving and communication system (PACS) application, and are often sold by PACS vendors as turnkey packages that include storage hardware. Today, large medical

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centers are contending with growing islands of storage while coping with shrinking budgets. As regulations and data continue to mount, hospital CIOs and IT admins are looking to centralize image archives to make them more manageable and cost-efficient.

"It's like trying to herd cats to do integrated PACS archiving," said Michael Passe, storage architect at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston. However, "the storage platform is managed by IT and, long term, we'd like to offer it as a service where we control the budget instead of 20 different people doing different projects," he said.

Michael Biedermann, systems analyst at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, said PACS vendor Royal Philips Electronics of the Netherlands is hosting archival data for the hospital's main radiology system, which takes some of the burden of data growth off IT's hands. "It's mostly the smaller systems that we're still running in-house that we're trying to get a handle on," Biedermann said. "When they were originally presented to us, IT was never given a real roadmap of how this was all going to work. When it all started, we had no clue what to try to prepare for. Now we're trying to kind of fix this all on the fly. That's why this universal vendor-neutral archive, if it truly existed, would be a godsend."

Other hospitals are also contending with facility and staffing limitations that make managing multiple, growing islands of storage all but impossible. "We're a small shop. We have two people that are network folks and do data center and storage, and kind of wear all the hats," said Marty Botticelli, CIO at Boston-based New England Baptist Hospital (NEBH). Massachusetts requires X-ray images to be retained for 30 years.

This was first published in August 2010

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