Storage capabilities are being overwhelmed by ballooning image sizes. Do you have the required bandwidth?
Over the past two decades, improving technology has vastly changed digital image storage. In most cases, higher quality images are taking up less space. But, that’s not true for radiology.
As image quality advances, the amount of storage space required balloons. The size and number of images needed for quality patient care is quickly outstripping storage capacity. Chances are, you’re either already grappling with how to upgrade your storage or you will be soon.
“Beginning with PACS through to digital tomosynthesis, we’re continuing to see an increased size of exams,” says James Whitfill, MD, chief medical officer for Arizona’s clinical integrated care network, Innovative Care Partners. “It can stress your network and your current storage capabilities.”
The question is, how do you find an option that meets your current and future image storage needs for an acceptable price tag?
The Image Size Problem
More detailed images improve diagnostic capabilities, but they also put greater strain on the IT department. And, the stress is two-fold, says Todd Thomas, chief information officer with Austin Radiological Association (ARA).
First, your IT department is responsible for migrating all your data. As your storage needs expand, they must determine how to move it to a new platform. The more data you have, the longer the process.
“If you have multi-terabytes or petabytes of data, the fear is by the time you’re done migrating to a new platform-and it can take months-it will be time to migrate to yet another vendor who can better accommodate your needs,” he says.
Second, latency-how quickly you retrieve images from storage-is a frequent problem. Larger image sizes tax your digital bandwidth, making it more difficult to both transfer images into storage and pull them back. For many providers, he says, image-access wait times over three seconds are unacceptable.
Finding the Right Solution - One Group’s Experience
According to Thomas, ARA faced this conundrum in 2014 when its clustered storage solution couldn’t handle the increased size need caused by a switch from 2D to 3D mammography. At first, the group purchased 55 terabytes (TB) of storage, but it quickly filled up. Eventually, ARA bought 174TB of space, adding 304 gigabytes (GB) monthly. Repeated purchases were neither time- nor cost-effective, he says.
Cloud storage was the answer. With it, ARA could immediately purchase additional storage space at a reasonable price point, and the organization met its providers’ latency requirement of three-second maximum wait times. Not only did ARA expand bandwidth from 100 megabytes to 500 megabytes, but it also pre-planned to limit wait times.
“We use DICOM routers to pre-fetch cases that the physicians need to see in the middle of the night and push them to their work stations,” Thomas says. “They’re ready and waiting when they arrive in the morning.”
Selecting The Right System
There’s no universal cookie-cutter storage solution, Thomas says. But, there are several things you should consider to pick the right system. Engage your stakeholders in discussions to ensure you’re selecting a product that works best for everyone. You’re more likely to get their buy-in if they’re included, says Whitfill, who is also the Society of Imaging Informatics in Medicine president-elect.
After you’ve assessed your needs, you can select the storage products best suited for your group. Mix-and-match more than one system to best protect your data, Whitfill says.
In addition to the cloud, most practices choose from three storage capabilities.
Side-Stepping Storage Failures
There are a few things you can do to avoid a breakdown in your image storage system, Whitfill says. These strategies can likely stop problems before they arise or fix them quickly if they hit.
“Adopt a technology that can be supported by your PACS, your storage vendor, and your local IT team,” Whitfill says. “If they have the same visibility and capability to support and manage it, the extra set of eyes is critical to ensuring you have redundancies in place to keep your image storage up and running.”
Most importantly, Whitfill says, concentrate on purchasing the storage amount you’ll need to meet your requirements for a few years. Don’t over-buy-you’ll waste money.
“If you think you’ll need 10TB over three years, don’t buy 100TB today. The price of storage is falling so quickly,” he says. “It will probably be 50 percent to 70 percent cheaper when you actually need to buy more space.”