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Solving the medical imaging storage divide

ATLANTA — One of the more interesting vendor meetings here at HIMSS10 took place with Symantec. The company’s two new offerings, Symantec Health Safe and Image Share, are somewhat interesting: The former is Software as a Service storage hosting for health care images, the latter a Flash-based Web tool enabling physicians to share their X-rays, CT scans and other pictures with each other without having to mail CDs, DVDs or paper copies.

Far more interesting, however, is the deep look it gives into hospital IT culture: Health Safe attempts to solve the problem of the total lack of planning for back-end support when a facility purchases medical imaging equipment. A typical scenario unfolds like this: Chief medical officer or other clinical leader gets administrators to agree to purchase a new 256-slice scanner. It happens to spew four times the data than the machine it replaced. No data storage budget is baked into the purchase, leaving IT staff on the hook for the tab.

Health Safe, targeted to medium (200-bed) and larger hospitals, attempts to arm the IT side with information to help arbitrate this dispute by adding data analytics tools. These are accessible in a hardware appliance Symantec provides its customers to plug in at its facility, interfaces with the PACS systems — a common occurrence when a health system has multiple buildings, multiple imaging systems or a combination of those.

The Health Safe dashboard gives CIOs a snapshot of which machines or modalities (CT scan, MRI, X-ray, etc.) are the gigabyte hogs, and which ones contribute less to the problem — and justification for budget requests when the storage capacity redlines, which is inevitable as each new generation of hi-res medical imaging equipment captures more and more pixels.

“It gives a detailed breakdown of storage across facilities, based on type of modality, and do a day-to-day breakdown,” said Gary Sevounts, Symantec senior director of marketing and product management. “For the first time, you can see how much storage CAT scans are using in Facility A or Facility B. It provides the CIO the possibility of doing chargebacks to each department based on storage utilization.”

Note that word possibility. The problem of IT managers picking up the storage tab is still their problem, and theirs alone. But analytics tools like these, customized for health care image storage, seem — at least at first blush — like interesting little hammers they can use to chip away at their data storage budget problems. Arriving at solutions can be a contentious process in the best of times, and in this down economy, they need all the help they can get.

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