Peace of Mind: Long-term Archives that Deliver

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 When it comes to long-term data storage in today’s healthcare imaging environment, it seems as though there’s never enough. The advent of digital imaging modalities and PACS products have compelled IT departments to scale up archive space to meet the increased storage needs of their users.

For many institutions, near-term image archives, generally accepted as maintaining six months to three years of a facility’s most current studies, are ever more quickly reaching capacity. The increasing utilization of diagnostic imaging by a widening variety of medical specialties, coupled with an aging population that requires more healthcare services, suggests that image archive strategies may need to be revisited to mitigate the necessity to manage even greater quantities of image data.

A variety of strategies are available to address long-term archive implementation, depending on a facility’s needs and resources.

Downey moves outside the box

Marjorie Parsons, director of imaging services for Downey Regional Medical Center in Downey, Calif., was a key force in the 199-bed community hospital’s recent conversion to a full digital radiology workflow.

Her department conducts more than 90,000 imaging exams annually. Within the past year, Parsons has deployed a DR Systems PACS, and slashed the utilization of film.

“As part of our new PACS, we installed an 8-terabyte (TB) on-site archive for our study storage,” she says. “The hardware was selected with the help of our PACS vendor and was installed as part of that system. It holds about two year’s worth of exams.”

In addition to implementing the near-term archive, Parsons thoroughly investigated long-term archive strategies before installing PACS. Business continuity and disaster recovery were the prime drivers in her research.

“We wanted complete business continuity to keep the department functioning in the event of a disaster,” she says.

The facility considered purchasing and installing its own on-site backup archive, but physical space is at a premium in the hospital, Parsons says. She also looked at leasing an off-site facility to house a back-up archive, but this, too, was not an acceptable option. That would have required Downey’s IT staff manage the system in a remote location, which would be difficult and put personnel off-site on a frequent basis.

The third alternative, which Parsons selected, was to contract with a managed archive service provider, InSiteOne, to handle Downey’s off-site storage and disaster recovery. With the service, once an imaging study is complete, images are transmitted via a digital connection setup by the vendor to its primary storage facility in Connecticut, and then mirrored to a secondary site in Arizona.

Parsons says the application service provider (ASP) model was chosen because it shifted the expense of a long-term archive from the capital equipment budget to the operating budget. In addition, moving the service to an outsourced provider freed her from concerns about scalability and technology obsolescence.

“We don’t need a crystal ball to predict our future exam volume to purchase archiving hardware,” she says. “This also frees us from the expense and time of keeping our storage system current as technologies change.”

CHW sets sites on standards

Standards compliance is of paramount importance for the healthcare informatics strategy of multi-state healthcare provider Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), says Phoenix-based Steve Hight, CHW director of strategic technology projects. CHW, the sixth largest hospital chain in the U.S., has more than 50,000 employees and 8,000 physicians treating more than five million patients per year.

“Adhering to strict standards mitigates the risks associated with complex systems, which is critical when dealing with the volume of data acquisition that we do,” Hight says.

He is responsible for CHW’s IT architecture strategy and planning as well as for overseeing strategic IT projects. During his tenure with CHW, Hight has led major projects in areas such as data center consolidation, open source technologies, and HIPAA compliance for clinical systems and other critical systems.

All information systems in the CHW enterprise are thoroughly compliant with CHW’s standards, which are specified in detail during the selection process for new best-of-breed technologies, Hight says.

For example, CHW diagnostic imaging uses a heterogeneous mix of PACS products from vendors such as DR Systems, Emageon, and Fujifilm Medical Systems