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Security and data migration
Getting records from paper to disk is easy compared to transferring data outside the hospital, according to transfer protocols established by HIPAA regulations.

In one of the biggest two steps forward, one step back, HIPAA allows faxing from paper originals, but once the information is on disk. Any transmission of the data that's automatically generated by computer through an automated fax routine must be made from and to encrypted devices encryption. Regarding radiology images, Lazarus says, "We can burn a patient's study to CD and provide them with a viewer. As far as the electronic medical records, I don't know of a way that protects their privacy."

Keep everything?
HIPAA's basic storage requirement is six years, which corresponds to the federal statute of limitations for civil penalties. Add in other federal, state and/or local regulations for patient-related information, and it's no wonder that storage managers in health care are frustrated.

The key to avoiding disk clutter, according to Jerry Carleo, a storage systems consultant with StorServer Inc. is to not think about the patient record as the umbrella under which all related data is stored. Instead, each data element should be considered a record unto itself associated with the patient.

Systems such as EMC Corp.'s Centera, a disk-based write once, read many (WORM) device, can already

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do the job, using an object-based storage system that also lets applications embed retention periods that prevent the record from being deleted before the end of the period. The downside is that Centera is expensive.

How much storage?
With some industry analysts predicting that storage needs will increase in the range of 52% per year, why are health care storage managers only quoting jumps in the 10% to 32% range? They're both correct, at least in part, and for different reasons.

St. Vincent's Porter says: "Storage growth is never steady. Every year, we'll purchase 25% to 50% more storage, but it's a percentage of what we previously purchased and that's probably what the analysts are looking at." The best advice from experts is to carefully examine your current storage capabilities with an eye toward consolidation, plus a detailed analysis of online, nearline and offline storage requirements.

This was first published in March 2004

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