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The common health data storage mistake that healthcare CIOs make

Health data storage helps healthcare organizations remain up and running and helps them innovate. That's why using the right storage tech is so important. A CTO weighs in.

Health data storage technology plays an important role not only in keeping healthcare organizations up and running, but also in innovation. Proper data storage makes possible health IT endeavors such as disaster recovery, population health management, big data and cognitive computing.

However, simply purchasing health data storage technology doesn't mean a healthcare organization will automatically be able to keep operations running smoothly and efficiently, not to mention the challenges associated with successfully implementing population health management.

Vik Nagjee, formerly the CTO for Epic Systems Corp. and currently the CTO of global healthcare solutions for Pure Storage, an enterprise data flash storage company based in Mountain View, Calif., explained that, "in all of the years that I've spent in healthcare IT, building the software side and the infrastructure side, the one thing that I have found that … continues to be a big, big problem … is the complexity of [healthcare organizations'] infrastructure."

Nagjee added that for healthcare organizations and hospital systems, there's more at stake than the loss of revenue should the IT systems and infrastructure of the healthcare organization falter.

"We have lives at stake," he said. "We just cannot accept that."

Health IT should help healthcare organizations be agile, allow them to be unburdened and allow them to innovate, Nagjee said.

"Storage, in my mind, is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, contributors and enablers and accelerators, if you will, in that particular area," he said. Storage is the foundation off of which all other applications or technologies run. If a healthcare organization isn't using an effective and efficient storage technology, they will not be able to be agile and to innovate.

Nagjee also discussed the biggest mistake he thinks healthcare organizations make when it comes to health data storage technologies.

The problem with tiered storage

Nagjee explained that, a few years ago, disk-based storage technology vendors realized that disk may have its benefits, but that type of storage is not great for latency-sensitive applications.

"Things that require fast response times and consistent response times," Nagjee said.

Therefore, these vendors rearchitected their storage technology environments to add a layer of solid-state drives and, thus, tiered storage was born.

Storage, in my mind, is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, contributors and enablers and accelerators, if you will, in that particular area.
Vik NagjeeCTO of global healthcare solutions, Pure Storage

Nagjee said that CIOs and CTOs, including those in healthcare, still tend to utilize tiered storage, but this storage strategy can ultimately prove challenging because, in order to remain agile, an effective application needs to be used to pull the appropriate data from where it resides within the tiered storage infrastructure.

"Something that was architected from the ground up for a disk and you add … a layer of cache around your solid-state drives, there's a very big penalty associated with that," Nagjee said. "The penalty is in terms of software that they also have to create in terms of trying to figure out, number one, which data to keep on which media, the goal being frequently accessed data [living] on a faster media and less frequently accessed data [living] on the slower media."

Nagjee explained that there is software that not only helps figure out where to place the data, but also where to migrate the data to because data access patterns are often inconsistent within healthcare.

Why this matters in healthcare

Nagjee offered up a scenario: A patient goes to their doctor for their annual checkup. The nurse takes the patient's blood pressure, temperature, weight and so on. In this scenario, the doctor wants to check the data collected during this patient's last 20 visits. With tiered storage, the doctor is "accessing data that's completely out of order. This is old data. It's very random access," Nagjee said. "Then [the doctor] may not touch your chart at all for the next year until you come back." This is a common occurrence in healthcare.

Nagjee explained that this random access to a patient's information makes it difficult for the software being used to find the appropriate data to predict and pull information from faster storage.

"There's [no reason] for you to be able to really take some of these [tiered storage] retrofit solutions, fill them in and expect to have the continued success from a today and future standpoint," Nagjee said.

Nagjee advised that healthcare organizations focus on storage technologies "that were built from the ground up and architected from the ground up for flash." Although, full disclosure, Pure Storage does offer a flash storage product.

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