How to take the long term view on big data in healthcare

Today, data volumes are exploding. More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. By the year 2020, about 1.7 MBs of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. 

By then, our accumulated digital universe of data will grow from 4.4 zettabytes today to around 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes – a ten-fold increase in just four years.

Big data is also helping to make the world a better place, and there’s no better example than the uses being found for it in healthcare. Intelligent and creative uses of Big data in healthcare is helping to predict epidemics, find cures for disease, improve quality of life and avoid preventable deaths.

With the world’s population increasing and everyone living longer, models of treatment delivery are rapidly changing, and many of the decisions behind those changes are being driven by data.

> See also: Better care rests in the cloud: how close are we to fully utilising the cloud in healthcare?

The drive now is to understand as much about a patient as possible, as early in their life as possible – hopefully picking up warning signs of serious illness at an early enough stage that treatment is far more simple (and less expensive) than if it had not been spotted until later.

While big data is positively driving advances in healthcare, the storage and management of it are causing significant issues for IT managers, both because of the need to store, archive and preserve large volumes of data for future research; as well as dealing with the security and compliancechallenges associated with it.  

So what’s the best way for healthcare organisations to go about storing and archiving these huge volumes of big data safely, secularly and cost-effectively?

Pathology is an example of an area in the NHS that is undergoing disruptive change and where new digital processes are introducing challenges to old ways of working. However in doing so these new processes are also introducing fantastic new opportunities bought about by big data.

Managers of digital pathology labs are benefiting from digital workflows that are fostering innovation in how pathology practices are transforming patient care. Even a modest pathology lab with one small slide scanner will generate over 15 TB of data per year and the responsibility for storing, managing and securing this volume of data over decade-long timescales, all the while taking into account the compliance, security, cost and data integrity requirements associated with its storage is falling on IT departments.

IT managers have their own challenges arising from this, not least of which is procuring and managing new infrastructure, but also having significant new data appearing in the backup window.

Looking at numbers like this, and when you start to consider what is required to successfully store this data, it quickly becomes clear that pathology laboratories, as well as hospitals and other medical research institutions, have a significant task on their hands.

The good news is that there are in fact specialist managed data storage services that are positively disrupting how big data is being secured and stored. And they’re reducing costs, meeting NHS and healthcare compliance requirements and delivering the long-term efficiency benefits that enable digital workflows to flourish.

Healthcare organisations should consider bringing in one of these specialist providers of long-term data archiving, such as Arkivum, who can implement a managed service that has been specifically designed from the ground up to provide ultra secure storage for large volumes of data for extended periods of time.

> See also: 'Connected healthcare' market set to be worth £37bn by 2020

And it is not just digital pathologists who can employ digital archiving services. Healthcare organisations across the board are all looking for ways to manage their data. Hospitals, genetics laboratories, fertility clinics and digital pathologists alike need to consider the most effective way to ensure that all this big data is properly managed.

If you want to start taking positive steps towards managing your data for the long term, here are six top tips to help you on your way:

Save costs by moving infrequently used data off expensive primary storage'

Get static data into archive storage to ensure its safe on decade level timescales and save backup costs.

Make sure you have an archiving policy and regular archiving activity to keep your house in order.

Make sure that your archive has online copies for easy access and offline/off-site copies for disaster recovery.

Ensure that there is a designated individual with data archiving responsibly.

Regularly review the policy process and data storage solution against compliance requirements.

Alternatively, if you are interested in finding out more you can download a copy of Arkivum's paper: Managing Big Data – Reaping the Rewards. In this paper we detail the issues and challenges that healthcare organisations face when it comes to managing large volumes of data. We also highlight what a digital data storage strategy needs to include for success.  

Sourced from Nik Stanbridge, VP Marketing, Arkivum

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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