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Healthcare storage tech helps hospital improve delivery, speed of care

Although it may not be exciting, there is no doubt healthcare storage technologies play an important role in the delivery of quality healthcare. One CIO shares his story.

Healthcare storage technologies may not be the sexiest of topics when it comes to health IT and patient care, but whether or not a healthcare organization is using efficient and effective storage technologies can affect all aspects of a healthcare organization. Efficient data storage is the foundation that makes such things as population health management, big data and cognitive computing possible.

"There's a need to execute things like population health management initiatives, and in order to do that, you need to be able to take your population data and put it somewhere so you can run analytics off of it," Kate McCarthy, a Forrester Research analyst who focuses on CIOs and health IT, said. "People are starting to understand that there's value in doing more with data than they have been, historically."

That's why hospitals such as Cleveland Clinic are investing in technologies like Hadoop and cognitive computing, McCarthy explained.

While healthcare storage technologies play a key role in hospitals effectively utilizing technologies to make population health management and cognitive computing happen, on the flip side, if a hospital does not have effective or efficient healthcare storage technologies in place, it can lead to performance issues, unwanted downtime and slow the delivery of information, John Ward, CIO at TriHealth, a five-hospital health system in Cincinnati, said. In the healthcare setting, this means delivering care to patients can be slowed down as well.

John Ward, CIO at TrihealthJohn Ward

Not only that, but hospitals and healthcare organizations often have to juggle storage for various types of systems.

"In the health system, we've got imaging storage for PAC [picture archiving and communication] systems and cardiology PAC systems, we have data storage as part of our EHRs, we've got huge data warehouses, big data, and so on, running on storage," Ward said.

TriHealth began experiencing issues with its own storage technology and began to look for an alternative.

Ward explained that TriHealth was having some issues with the VMWare view desktop layout and "we were having some performance issues with our ... what we call 'report shadow', and basically it's part of our data mark for doing reporting out of our EHR. Currently we've got almost 4,000 desktops that run virtually, and we were struggling with given the number of IOPS [input/output operations per second] that we needed to get out of our storage."

Ward added that using efficient and cost-effective healthcare storage technologies not only helps in terms of the delivery of information, but also when it comes to security and encryption. All of this, in turn, leads to the minimization of downtime and the improved delivery of care for patients.

"We're one of those businesses that need to run 24/7, and we need to make sure that we can minimize downtime," Ward said.

TriHealth's move to Pure Storage

After conducting a "storage bake-off," Ward said that TriHealth chose Pure Storage's FlashArray technology for their virtual desktops and their EHR.

"Pure [Storage] has really been instrumental in our overall storage strategy by providing a single storage solution that addresses everything from the deduplication to compression, to encryption, and the advantage of it is it's all flash," Ward said.

This has helped TriHealth lower costs from a storage perspective, improve performance and address security needs. Ward added that it has helped TriHealth stay current and create better uptime by providing redundancy across the organization's data centers.

However, Ward highlighted the fact that in addition to being "fast" Pure Storage is also cost-effective.

He explained that before, healthcare organizations would have to buy capacity and buy licenses to the software. "It gets really complicated from a cost perspective," he said. But Pure Storage "allows you to add as you need, and you don't have to make this huge investment upfront in these huge storage frames."

Pure Storage's technology

Pure Storage's CTO of the Americas, Chadd Kenney, said that the company's goal was to "build a box that was ridiculously simple" and "that would be plug-and-play." The Mountain View, Calif., based company used a mixture of technologies to make this happen.

"We incorporate a lot of software intelligence that enables data to be stored in its most efficient format," Kenney said. "We have technology called inline [deduplication]; inline compression; [and] we also use some fun stuff like pattern removal, ... which are older technologies, and it reduces the data set down dramatically, which enables even better economics out of the flash device itself."

Kenney explained that by reducing the data set down, it means organizations don't have to purchase as much hardware. At the same time, Pure Storage is increasing the density of their technology.

"Typically there's racks and racks and racks of disk," Kenney said. "We're cutting down to just maybe a quarter or an eighth of a rack, and we're seeing a great reduction in data center space [and] a great reduction in just the cost to operate the actual components themselves."

Not only does this give people faster access to information, but it also allows for analytics.

"With disk-based architectures of the past, [healthcare organizations] weren't able to get access to information very fast, and in many cases it would take 24 hours, 48 hours or even weeks to run some of the analytics operations," Kenney said. But with flash array technologies like Pure Storage, healthcare organizations can cut that time frame down to anywhere from minutes to hours.

Next Steps

What healthcare can learn from retail when it comes to data storage

Healthcare data storage in the cloud is being driven by analytics

How to develop a HIPAA compliant storage plan

This was last published in June 2016

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