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Medical data storage: What health IT can learn from retail

When it comes to medical data storage and utilizing that data, healthcare could take a pointer or two from retail, an analyst says.

Healthcare can learn a lot from retail when it comes to medical data storage and the tools used to utilize that data, according to Kate McCarthy, an analyst at Forrester Research who focuses on CIOs and health IT.

Storage and data analytics technologies are helping companies in the retail space understand what customers are likely to purchase based on their travel plans, what the customer's budget is, what they're looking to buy and more.

"I use Amazon for lots of things, and it very nicely reminds when I'm due for something to be restocked, and so there are all of those things built into their data algorithms that enable them to influence their customers; and it's not just influencing their customers, it's understanding their customers," McCarthy said. "If we could do even half of that in healthcare, it would allow us to reduce bad clinical outcomes, it would allow us to improve quality of care, it would allow us to, essentially, prevent disease manifestation."

For example, if a hospital could monitor a prediabetic patient, trend that person's data and identify patterns in behavior that put them more at risk for moving into the actual category of diabetes, "those are all things you'd be able to do if you started to adopt new strategies for data and leveraging things like unstructured data, leveraging technologies like cognitive [computing]," McCarthy said. "If healthcare really gets engaged in doing things like that, the possibilities are truly endless."

Of course, in order to do any of this in healthcare -- data analytics, population health management, cognitive computing -- effective medical data storage is required.

Suggested medical data storage options

In McCarthy's opinion, most healthcare organizations should be looking into good basic health data storage options that include cognitive and predictive analytics. "I think those are fundamentally important moving forward," she said.

I do think cloud is the way of the future, and so I definitely advise people to at least look at it as a potential option.
Kate McCarthyForrester Research analyst

She pointed out that early adopters, like Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, have already invested in cognitive platforms.

"Those learning engines will be incredibly powerful in a matter of weeks, months, years," McCarthy said. "It will move the data game forward by having them in place, and so having a combination of those things I think is important."

And McCarthy is a big advocate for the cloud as well: "In general cloud-based technologies are more cost effective and take less time to implement," she said. "So I'm a big fan of using cloud technologies, not just from a cost perspective, but they add to business agility."

She added that, in her opinion, cloud storage technologies tend to be more secure, as well.

One cloud medical data storage vendor McCarthy recommends to her healthcare clients is CloudMine, which includes features like analytics, interoperability and mobile applications in addition to health data storage.

Other vendors offering medical data storage products include IBM Watson, Dell and Health Catalyst, McCarthy said.

"There are a lot of players out there, and they come in all different shapes and sizes," McCarthy said. Some do data warehousing, some do Hadoop, some do big data lakes, some do all of it and some do pieces of what is available out there, she said.

"I do think cloud is the way of the future, and so I definitely advise people to at least look at [it] as a potential option [for medical data storage]," McCarthy said. "The reality is most people are still shopping for on-premises solutions for the bulk of what they do. Hopefully that will change though."

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