Healthcare: Big Medical Image Files with Nowhere to Go?

Cloud Tiering is Coming of Age for Clinical Files

Healthcare organizations today are storing petabytes of medical imaging data—labs, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and more—a number that is expanding with no end in sight. To make matters worse, due to regulations, healthcare providers typically must retain medical imaging files for several years; they may even have an enterprise-wide policy of not deleting data ever.

Aside from compliance requirements, clinical researchers may need access to the data indefinitely while clinicians require collaboration and file sharing across a patient’s continuum of care. This presents a conundrum from both an economic and IT management perspective.

Internal storage for large image files is expensive—costing millions a year for some organizations on Porsche-grade NAS devices.

The data must be secured, replicated and backed up. Meanwhile, in most cases, imaging data is rarely accessed after a few days.

To get more flexibility and cost savings, healthcare organizations are increasing their investments in cloud data storage. In a recent webinar sponsored by the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM), storage architects from two large healthcare systems discussed strategies for tiering and migrating images to the cloud.

Such decisions can be rife with politics and long-standing institutional perspectives. Health systems are generally risk-averse—they are handling sensitive patient information after all—and tolerance for downtime is usually quite low.

Cloud Tiering for Dear Life

Healthcare professionals depend upon accurate, timely data to make the best decisions; the loss of important patient data can have dire consequences. Keeping these large files safe and readily available could be a matter of life or death for a patient with a serious illness.

One of the storage managers interviewed in the SIIM webinar noted that a TCO study projected savings of 65% from moving pathology images that are 90 days or older from the on-premises HCI and NAS arrays to a third tier on Google Cloud Object Storage. That’s compelling evidence to consider a new unstructured data management strategy.

In this particular case, the organization is scanning 1TB of pathology slides per day; they remain on the Tier 1 HCI storage for three days, after which they are moved to the Tier 2 NAS device. Using Komprise, the post-90 day old slides are automatically tiered to Google Cloud storage, and once there, move between two tiers based on age.

“The Komprise transparent move technology (TMT) hides the location from technicians,” the storage manager said. “They don’t even notice it’s coming from the cloud.”

Since these older images stored in the cloud are accessed so rarely, the cloud egress fees to bring them back to the on-premises digital pathology solution have been minimal. Komprise pulls the slides back to the Tier 2 storage for rehydration and afterward they are deleted since there’s a copy in the cloud.

 

Without Komprise: Medical imaging files are being stored on the expensive, high-performing NAS, including imaging files that have not been recently accessed and have gone cold (blue).

 

Using Komprise, medical imaging files that have gone cold (blue) are transparently moved from the NAS to the cloud. Clinicians, technicians, and other healthcare employees can still access these imaging files exactly as they did before.

 

Using Komprise for Medical Imaging Cloud Tiering and Cloud Data Management

Medical imaging systems use high-performance NAS devices to store medical images. This ensures fast access to files for the medical staff. However, such high-end storage is expensive and the images are generally not used after patient diagnosis. Komprise provides a tightly integrated solution with NAS devices to automatically move older images (e.g. images over 90 days old) to the cloud based on policy for significantly cheaper storage and without affecting user experience. Komprise is in use by large hospitals throughout the nation.

Here’s how it works:
  • Transparent Tiering: Komprise TMT ensures that clinicians can find old images as they did before from the original file location. However, the old images now reside in the cloud as objects. This reduces storage costs by as much as 70% and extends the capacity and lifespan of the expensive NAS devices. When a user wants to access an archived image, Komprise streams it back from the cloud storage and caches it locally on the NAS for fast access.
  • Cloud-Native Access: Komprise stores the images in the cloud in native form enabling research staff to access these images using new cloud-native services and tools for AI and ML processing. For example, Amazon HealthLake is a new data lake service incorporating machine learning models for analytics projects. Azure has several machine learning initiatives in healthcare including a partnership focused on decoding the immune system. By enabling direct cloud access to tiered images and data, healthcare organizations gain a larger portfolio of advanced tools and services to further their R&D efforts.
  • Global Search: Furthermore, Komprise creates a global index of all the images on the NAS regardless of whether they were tiered to the cloud or not. This allows the IT and research staff to search and find specific images for IT administration or clinical research. If Komprise is used across a set of hospitals, you now have one global index of all images across the entire health system, supporting global data management requirements and initiatives such as compliance.

Paving the Way for Medical Image Longevity

As high-value unstructured data like medical images exceed the limits of on-premises storage, the options are becoming increasingly limited within static budgets. Healthcare organizations need to craft a long-term plan with simple execution for cloud data management. Consider this comment from the SIIM webinar speaker:

“Because we’re keeping slides indefinitely, the amount of storage that would be required to house that much data indefinitely (600k slides annually, 1TB a day) would be prohibitively expensive. We had to come up with a new solution for Tier 3, which is the archived data.”

Sound familiar? Learn more about Komprise Intelligent Data Management for health and life sciences.

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