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Enterprise imaging systems are gaining popularity in healthcare

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Cloud medical imaging storage is the way of the future

PACS and VNAs are the image storage standards in healthcare. Cloud medical imaging storage presents benefits that may intrigue healthcare providers to ditch PACS and VNAs.

Investments in storage hardware in healthcare have increased and health IT directors are actively considering turning...

to cloud providers to evaluate cloud's viability for long-term storage. They are doing this in response to the growing collection of diagnostic images and the long retention policy associated with HIPAA, which necessitate a larger amount of storage.

It is common practice for medical images to be archived after a certain period of time. Most picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) products are designed to offer a cheaper archiving option, with older images being pushed off to cost-effective storage destinations. Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) are also used by healthcare facilities as a way to consolidate image archives, regardless of the PACS systems in place. In addition to PACS and VNAs, cloud medical imaging services offer a flexible alternative to the on-premises options.

Some manufacturers of ultrasound equipment support cloud connectivity. This means that some of the images generated by that equipment goes straight to the cloud providers or vendors and isn't hosted internally. Various health IT departments have also adopted cloud-hosted products for their different workloads, and successes with these implementations gave some of them the motivation to evaluate cloud medical imaging options. Vendors such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft offer low-cost storage and security assurances that appeal to healthcare providers looking for a new storage method. Here are some of the benefits of using cloud medical imaging:

Advantages of cloud medical imaging

Connectivity from anywhere at anytime

Cloud services can make medical images accessible from anywhere and on different devices. This flexibility simplifies the process of connectivity. While upholding appropriate security measures, a cloud imaging system can provide access to data without any additional network complexities.

System elasticity

Whether storage space needs to double or triple, an IT team can scale their storage and other resources with only a few clicks when operating in the cloud. This eliminates the need for any major hardware expenses and shortens the length of time it will take the IT department to adjust any old processes.

Data protection and redundancy

Medical imaging data is typically larger in size compared to other health data sets. This means the backups and disaster recovery (DR) systems must have enough capacity to keep copies of the data in case of system failure and data corruption. With the cloud alternative, healthcare entities are putting the DR burden directly on the service provider. Most service providers offer data redundancy across multiple data centers, as well as additional retention capabilities to ensure the data is protected in case it ever must be restored.

Payment flexibility

Another desirable feature of cloud products is that that clients only pay for what they use. This is especially helpful in the radiology space, since images are not frequently accessed after initial readings and interpretations. This means the primary costs of the system are the result of the initial data or image load, which helps lower costs for healthcare groups.

Despite the appeal of the cloud, there can be some challenges associated with its implementations. Installing cloud products requires appropriate planning and a strong understanding of what is being offered by the cloud providers. Knowing the correct storage plans, connectivity requirements, available data protections, compliance certifications and support are a few areas that must be thoroughly evaluated before making an investment in cloud services. It is also important to identify any initiatives in which images are shared with other groups, such as health information exchanges, as those transactions can affect overall costs. The upside of cloud services can be quickly eclipsed by the burden of data download fees if sufficient planning isn't done ahead of transitioning to the cloud.

Next Steps

Salesforce enters healthcare market with Health Cloud

VNAs are superior to PACS at consolidating imaging storage

Analytics and data security are two other places to find cloud in healthcare

This was last published in December 2015

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Essential Guide

Enterprise imaging systems are gaining popularity in healthcare

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