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How hospitals are using the cloud for medical image storage

Advancements in medical imaging means larger files and an increased demand for greater storage capacity. The cloud offers a reprieve for healthcare organizations.

When it comes to the growing volume of data seen in healthcare, medical imaging is one of the biggest consumers of a hospital's storage capacity. The large size of files from MRIs, CT scans, nuclear studies and X-rays have placed a significant burden on IT to keep up with its growth rate, and that has some CIOs looking to evaluate alternate storage options that are outside their data centers to solve the problem.

As medical imaging technology continues to improve, the result directly impacts the number of files and their size as well. The increased demand on storage has accelerated the consumption of existing storage arrays in healthcare organizations. Concerns of running out of room and more investments in hardware have pushed many healthcare CIOs to move away from traditional storage models to something cloud-based. The appeal of cloud-based medical image storage offers attractive capabilities around improved security due to the large investments cloud providers make to protect their cloud and tenants, flexibility that allows IT to provision systems quickly using a web browser, and lower upfront costs since the cost model is subscription-based. 

Despite those advantages, some healthcare organizations still hesitate to move to the cloud because of potential performance issues due to the data not being locally available. However, those who have made the leap into the cloud and have adopted it for their healthcare organizations have clearly recognized the opportunity it provides them in addressing their medical image storage needs.

Unfortunately, the use of cloud-based medical image storage is not the silver bullet to solve healthcare's medical imaging problems. In fact, a pure cloud storage play would not be able to deliver on performance and data access requirements. When a radiologist needs to pull an image from a PACS, he or she cannot afford to wait for the file to be downloaded from the cloud. An option that has successfully been adopted is the use of local storage that communicates with the cloud storage and holds some of the frequently accessed data locally so that it is accessible quickly. This hybrid approach to storage proved to be something that not only addresses the immediate needs of hospitals when it comes to faster access to images, but it also allows for data growth without constantly adding more storage arrays.

Having access to scalable, pay-as-you go services, as well as secure and compliant storage means that hospitals will continue to consider shifting their digital assets to the cloud.

Cloud-based storage use has gone beyond just the needs for medical imaging; many hospitals look to these types of storage implementations to address some of their growing storage needs for backups and disaster recovery and HIPAA compliance requirements for data encryption and security.

The use of cloud services has also shown additional benefits that go beyond just medical image storage. The latest advances in AI are taking advantage of medical images in the cloud to perform image analysis. The result is that AI is able to aid radiologists in their clinical diagnosis and decision support.

The healthcare adoption of cloud services continues to grow, and there are no signs of it slowing down. Having access to scalable, pay-as-you go services, as well as secure and compliant storage means that hospitals will continue to consider shifting their digital assets to the cloud.

This was last published in October 2018

Dig Deeper on PACS (Picture archiving and communication system)

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