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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

“That’s going to be a tremendous growth driver of the next few years,” he notes.

Daher agrees. “It’s something everyone’s looking at,” he says, but even that’s not all. “It’s not only digital pathology; it’s also endoscopy, ophthalmology, dermatology, surgery — a number of image-using and image-producing departments.”

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Changing the business model
New pressures on storage could lead to new storage models, but in general the industry is fairly conservative. “Most health care organizations, regardless of size, continue with business-as-usual in terms of managing storage,” Leonard says.

This means building out a disk-based archive system, periodically adding to it or swapping out obsolete equipment after five years. But new storage demands and the advent of offsite cloud — a fancy way of talking about systems managed remotely by a vendor or third-party — are emerging as an option. Slowly.

“From what we’ve seen, I don’t know anybody would disagree, that cloud storage market for medical imaging is really just at the beginning stages,” Leonard says. Even so, cloud systems are generally for so-called older studies in the archives, not tier 1, ultra-fast, latency-free storage that radiologists need for recent exams.

”It’s very rare that somebody’s going to put their tier 1 storage offsite,” Leonard says. “As bandwidth becomes less expensive and more available, that potentially changes.”

Still, Frost & Sullivan’s Daher believes that more facilities are moving to a cloud-style, pay-as-you-go model, where a facility pays per procedure or volume unit, such as by terabyte, rather than adding more modular racks into the already crowded archives. But he says it could be in the “early adopter stage” for some time.

Analytics, phase 1
Once you have all this data, though, whether stored onsite or off, what do you do with it? Here’s where analytics comes in. And here, just like with the cloud, medicine is just catching up.

“When the world talks about Big Data, you’ve got Google and Amazon and their way more advanced computer science going at these problems, and in medicine we’ll be watching that and potentially trying to harness new ways of crawling through data,” Dr. Matthew Morgan, a radiologist and imaging informaticist at the University of Utah, tells DOTmed News. For medicine, digital trends tend to come five to 10 years later, he says.

In radiology, for now, informaticists and vendors are about working more on data aggregation than true “Big Data,” with less concern on making discoveries by combing through reams of data, and more interest in silo-breaking, by making sure information held by RIS, PACS, electronic medical records and even dose-monitoring software can be pooled together.

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