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"Big Data" comes to medical imaging

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | June 27, 2013
From the June 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Data deluge
For medical imaging, the data being created is expected to be very, very big. According to Frost & Sullivan’s recent predictions, diagnostic imaging alone will generate nearly 1 exabyte of data by 2016. One exabyte is one of those units so large the number used to describe it seems like a nonsense word — it’s 1 quintillion bytes. That is, 1 billion gigabytes. To put that in perspective, it’s the equivalent of 250 million DVDs, a little more than one month’s worth of the entire world’s mobile data traffic last year, or one-fifth of a text containing all words ever spoken, according to Cisco Systems Inc. In short, it’s a lot of data.

But even this might be an underestimate. Frost & Sullivan says its projections for diagnostic imaging growth, which, by the way, excludes some data-intensive imaging like interventional radiology, are a mid-range estimate. With a higher-range forecast, the volume crosses the 1 exabyte Rubicon either next year or in 2015.
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Mike Leonard

Mike Leonard, director of product management of health care services business with Iron Mountain, Inc., thinks the number’s too conservative, based on the storage firm’s own reports of a 50 percent year-over-year growth in its medical imaging archive business.

“If the growth rates (elsewhere) are as high as we’re seeing, those growth rates exceed what Frost & Sullivan has,” he tells DOTmed News. “We definitely see the amount of storage that hospitals need to budget for each year growing incrementally.”

He estimates the storage budget’s growing at about 3 to 5 percent of the total IT budget per year, with the growth larger for smaller hospitals. All told, between 2012 and 2015, hospitals’ total data load is expected to grow from 650 terabytes to about 1.7 petabytes, he says, citing published reports.

True, the growth of diagnostic imaging procedures has plateaued or even fallen over the past few years, but the absolute volumes are still up, Daher says. “The average storage volume requirement is going up, and that’s showing no sign of slowing down,” he predicts.

For growth, what modalities appear to be the culprits? “Generally, CT and MRI because of size of the studies coupled with the volume of studies done,” Leonard says. Digital mammograms are large, too, and an emerging innovation in this field might just make mammography more burdensome: breast tomosynthesis.

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