Who Else is in the Medical Imaging Big Data Arena?

October 12, 2011

If there is just one prediction that has held exactly true since the downturn starting in 2008 in the medical imaging industry, it has to be the one related to the “Big Data” challenge and the fact that imaging providers would continue to face an ever more precarious situation drowning under Big Data.

If there is just one prediction that has held exactly true since the downturn starting in 2008 in the medical imaging industry, it has to be the one related to the “Big Data” challenge and the fact that imaging providers would continue to face an ever more precarious situation drowning under Big Data.

Patient images are being archived by providers for longer times than required by regulatory guidelines, mounting image data volumes over the years to tens and hundreds of terabytes, if not petabytes.

Neither the last few years’ dampening in the growth of imaging procedure volumes in the U.S. - where the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act played a big part - nor the clinical strategies favoring the utilization of the less advanced (and less costly and less data intensive) imaging modalities, will have had any relieving effect, even if temporary, on providers.

In fact, despite the low-key period for the economics of medical imaging, every variable underlying growth in archived image data volumes - that is, the average data volume requirements of individual imaging studies, the average annual procedure volumes by provider and nationwide, and the average length of archive detention - has kept increasing. As a result, Big Data has kept on getting bigger and, with it, the market opportunity for medical image data management, distribution and storage, has kept growing larger.

No wonder then that almost every IT vendor eyeing vertical healthcare opportunities during the past 10 years has elected the PACS back-end as one of the niche areas worth expanding into. This is an ideal opportunity to build value-added front-end features away from a commodity IT hardware business and to highlight the necessity of “Big Security” while imposing the cloud computing paradigm within healthcare.

And, to that aim, who better than the small independent medical imaging middleware companies with strong data migration, vendor-neutral archive (VNA) and enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities - most notably Acuo Technologies, DeJarnette, Teramedica and Mach7 Technologies - for the big IT vendors to partner with? Or, for that matter, for them to acquire, as is the case with the recent acquisition of InSiteOne by Dell in December 2010 and, to a certain extent, of Bycast by NetApp in April 2010.

Today, on the PACS application front, PACS vendors are moving slower than ever within an increasingly saturated and demanding marketplace. They are also being forced to concede to other players much of the back-end of PACS, including important components such as enterprise content management, long term archiving and related disaster recovery/business continuity (DR/BC) services. What is even worse for PACS vendors is the recent third-party IT middleware solutions sometimes allow providers to hold on to their PACS system longer, even if it means keeping a legacy PACS running only as a PACS viewer, or in the background of the unified PACS viewer of a third-party vendor.

Nonetheless, the diversity one can notice today is striking, looking at the industry background of the newer contenders in the medical imaging Big Data arena. Big telecom companies including AT&T and Verizon as well as the leader in IT security, Symantec; database expert, Oracle; software giant, Microsoft; content expert, OpenText (Vignette); and archive firm, Iron Mountain have joined in with the large IT vendors (Dell, EMC, IBM, HP and NetApp) to design new ECM and VNA solutions tailored for medical imaging in and beyond DICOM, and for electronic medical records (EMRs). This dynamic industry space is starting to witness more merger and acquisition activity, and also to hint at what might well be the first large-scale best-of-breed industry partnerships.

Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst Nadim Daher has more than eight years of medical imaging expertise. His industry analysis covers the U.S. and Canadian markets and includes a focus on medical imaging informatics and medical imaging modalities. 

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