Helping Hospitals with Their Imaging Problem

It hasn’t been long since when thinking about medical imaging we would visualize a physician holding an x-ray image to a light box as he or she studied the anatomy. By today’s standards, those old medical images would seem quaint if they didn’t belie the very real image management problem the country’s hospitals will face in the coming years. The confluence of sophisticated new medical-imaging technologies and federal regulations that encourage the expansion of electronic medical records has whipsawed hospitals and their technology managers. The challenge to store, retrieve and securely share these massive and mushrooming collections of data pose a credible threat to the creation of a healthcare system fit for the 21st century.

Most healthcare experts realize that a hospital’s ability to efficiently capture, store and retrieve the right medical images at the right time will reduce redundant and expensive procedures, and improve overall diagnoses and patient care. They also realize that this will become increasingly more difficult as these new, more-sophisticated digital imaging technologies emerge. The need to securely store, retrieve and integrate those images seamlessly into electronic medical records will greatly tax systems currently in place.

Anyone with a digital camera and a couple of cute kids understands the demands digital images put on technology systems. A single image from a five-megapixel camera can be as large as 40 megabytes. Meanwhile, medical scanners that currently take eight to 64 “slices,” each a separate image, are now being replaced with devices that take 256 slices that can produce as many as 7,000 high-definition images during each scan. It’s not just important to save these images a few months, but rather government regulations and standards of care mandate that images may need to be stored for seven, 10 or 20 years or longer.

At Dell, we’ve developed what we call the Unified Clinical Archive, a broad-reaching set of computer storage and servers, software and services that collectively address the long-term image management problem our hospitals face today. These end-to-end systems can handle the full gamut of diagnostic imaging procedures, such as CT Scans, MRI and even EKG traces, pulmonary tests, surgical scope procedures and digital mammography. It uses an industry standard format called DICOM to save images and it provides a common storage pool so doctors can access any image they need with the click or two of a mouse. It lets healthcare professionals tag each image with richer information, so each file can be stored and retrieved more efficiently. And it provides massive, petabyte-scale levels of storage space so hospitals can archive medical images for years, even decades if required. And with the announcement of our plans to acquire InSite One, Inc., we will expand UCA to provide a cloud-based alternative to our on-premise solution for archiving and retention to further reduce the overall costs of data storage and retention for hospitals.

As the sheer number of medical imaging technologies continues to expand in the future, the costs of storing and archiving all those pictures will dwarf the cost of acquiring the sophisticated equipment that generates medical images in the first place. Hospitals will need an intelligent data-management strategy that relies on systems like Dell’s Unified Clinical Archive. Our customers have told us they have more than 100 applications that produce images they need to archive, so these new storage technologies must store images across multiple departments and facilities. These systems have to be able identify and archive the 90 percent of the images that may never need to be accessed again, and they have to keep handy the 10 percent of images doctors need for quick diagnosis and decision-making. And finally, these systems must have the built-in ability to automate tedious processes and free healthcare providers to focus on their patients instead of data management procedures.

The explosion of digital information required by federal regulations and created by invaluable new technologies has created an unprecedented challenge for our hospitals. Improving data storage and simplifying data management will help today’s healthcare providers avoid the looming image management problem and free their budgets to improve other critical facets of patient care. Dell is delivering solutions that provide answers to these complex issues today.

About the Author: Dr. Jamie Coffin