As digital universe balloons, healthcare footprint remains small

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The digital universe in 2007—at 2.25 x 1021 bits (281 billion gigabytes)—was 10 percent bigger than the researchers expected, and the resizing comes as a result of faster growth in cameras, digital TV shipments and better understanding of information replication, according to a white paper released today. The paper is an update of market intelligence firm International Data Corporation’s (IDC) inaugural forecast of the digital universe published in March 2007, and sponsored by EMC.

In order to quantify these figures, “we sized the amount of digital information that is produced globally by a number of different devices, which is what we define as the digital universe. We not only estimated its current size, but we also forecasted out a size prediction to 2010,” Alex Manfrediz, co-author of the IDC white paper, told Health Imaging News. “We also examined the amount of digital storage that will be available every year, with an obvious eye to questioning whether the generated digital information is outpacing the amount of digital storage each year,” he added.

The report predicted that by 2011, the digital universe will be 10 times the size it was in 2006. It also predicted that the amount of information created, captured or replicated exceeded available storage for the first time in 2007. Also while not all information created and transmitted gets stored, by 2011, almost half of the information in digital universe will not have a permanent home.

The digital universe, according to IDC’s definition, includes information that is copied or captured, as well as generated.

“This year, we [at IDC] updated our model, and included different sectors, including the healthcare industry, and using the latest available information, came out with new numbers,” Manfrediz explained. “Through the new model and new configurations, we have found that the digital universe is growing faster than the initial report anticipated,” he said.

The digital universe “bigger, it’s growing faster and it’s more diverse,” he said. Manfrediz explained that by more diverse, IDC found that the type of digital information that is being generated every year is also expanding, “from RFID tags, VoIP, sensors, the media industry and other outlet that are consuming terabytes of information.”

When the company evaluated the vertical markets for the various industries, IDC found that the growth rates within the healthcare markets are not nearly as strong or fast as the other markets.

Manfrediz said that this finding may be a good sign due to the private nature of medical information, and for the healthcare sector, “the information growth rates are at a somewhat manageable level.” However, he also pointed to the unstructured nature of healthcare information, which “is very hard to analyze, file and access. As a result, compared to other industries that may contribute more to the digital universe, the healthcare industry has to deal with a lot more complicated issues for managing, accessing, storing and securing all that information.”

Manfrediz said while the healthcare digital presence is growing, there are a lot of reasons for the healthcare industry to be lagging behind other markets. He spoke on two of them:

  • One, there are lot processes generating digital information, like medical imaging from MRI, CT scans, but many of these are still performed manually. As a result, it is not an industry that generates reams of data automatically, it is limited by manual inputs, he said. Compared to other industries that are dwarfing healthcare’s presence, there is very little human intervention, according to Manfrediz.
  • “There’s a lot of industry or bureaucratic inertia against the rapid adoption of new technologies. The healthcare industry is quite fragmented; and it pits doctors against patients, and patients against HMOs,” he said.

Within the healthcare industry, “there is not a mandate for change, and there are no organization-wide standards compared to other industries. This is one of the inhibiting factors in the industry, even though it is growing,” Manfrediz pointed out.

The white paper suggested the three main imperatives that IT organizations will face, in order to cope with the growing digital universe:

  • Transform their existing relationships with the business units. These are the groups that will classify information, set retention policies, deal with customers whose data the company holds, and face the public if data is lost, breached, compromised