Health Data Deluge Expected To Spur Change

Expect to see more data center consolidation, database management challenges and use of desktop virtualization in medical facilities, analyst predicts.
Now that healthcare reform is law, IT managers must get ready to deal with an onslaught of new data that will come from the push to provide every citizen with an electronic medical record by 2014 and from the 32 million uninsured Americans who will start new health insurance plans.

As the impact of the new law works its way through the healthcare system, Mark Bowker, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said he expects to see more data center consolidation, greater challenges around database management and an uptick in desktop virtualization adoption.

Earlier this year, an ESG report found that the total 2010 healthcare IT spend will increase by 67 percent compared with last year. There also will be a 50 percent increase in new IT staff positions in 2010, ESG said.

From his discussions with IT managers at hospitals and other healthcare providers, Bowker predicts that we'll see hospital systems joining together and leveraging one another's IT for back-up, archived copies of data and other types of data at rest. "Data at rest is data that isn't accessed very often, but when doctors need it, they need it," Bowker said. "It's like a patient who broke a leg 10 years ago, you may not have needed the information during that time, but now the leg hurts and you need that old information."

As healthcare reform rolls out, IT managers in clinical facilities should expect to see a spike in the amount of information being gathered about patients.

File sizes are getting bigger because systems are able to gather more information, Bowker said. There also are more dimensions of information, and "that's consuming more and more capacity," he said.

As the terabytes of information grow, health IT managers must implement tiered storage and figure out how to move toward virtualization and cloud computing models. From a database administrator's standpoint, providing doctors, nurses and other medical staff with the necessary information to do their jobs is difficult, Bowker said.

It's not as just a matter of replacing servers, he said. They must "think about what data has to be mapped where? What do we do with that data? What type of security has to be put around that data? What regulations apply? What does the data look like to the end user, how will they use it, and will it be stored for the long term?"

Another trend will be an increase in the adoption of desktop virtualization, in a large part because it sets the policy of who can access information and where they can access it.

Desktop virtualization lets you set policies based on what network a doctor accessing the information is on. The system can be set to recognize that a doctor has logged in from home, for example, in which case access to specific applications will be denied, Bowker said.

While putting the technology in place is fundamental to the smooth operation of a hospital's staff, IT managers may have to go one step further.

The missing piece often is the person who can align infrastructure technology with the doctors' needs and make it all work with electronic medical records and industry regulations, Bowker said.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on this year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference. This report offers the best healthcare IT advice, insight, and analysis coming out of that conference. Download the report here (registration required).

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