Space Fury in a Med Rush for Information

7,000 to 8,000 patients a day. 1.89 million patients a year. All in a single 1,400-bed facility providing medical research, teaching and rehabilitation services. This is the Nanjing Children’s Hospital (NCH), the largest children’s medical facility in Jiangsu Province, China.

Doing the Right Thing Presents ChallengesHealthcare

If you caught Mad Max: Fury Road sometime in 2015, you could probably imagine what the situation would be like when desperate masses can’t get their immediate needs met. In the case of Mad Max, it was thousands of thirsty people deprived of water, a precious commodity held back by the evil cult leader, Immortan Joe, to control and keep them in constant disarray.

When someone enters with a medical emergency, the hospital has to find a way to treat the patient, even if the hospital can’t cope with the capacity. And for reason and one reason alone: because it’s the right, human thing to do. The good news is where human limitations await, technology opens doors.

Many hospitals like NCH rely heavily on a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) for x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This system supports accurate and rapid diagnosis as well as treatment by radiologists and attending physicians.

One of the problems faced by NCH was how its existing storage, which supported both its PACS and Hospital Information System (HIS), could not keep up with the performance and capacity required to meet the demands associated with more advanced medical imaging technology.

A research paper titled Empowering Personalized Medicine with Big Data and Semantic Web Technology: Promises, Challenges, and Use Cases predicts by 2020, healthcare data will reach 25,000 petabytes, a 50-hold increase from 2012. As new medical devices are introduced to offer better treatment modalities to patients in hospitals, the demands of storing and accessing data will become more prevalent.

Making It Easier to Do the Right Thing

So what’s the solution? The flexibility of a single file system storage that makes it easy for physicians to search, archive and scale, when required.

In NCH’s context, EMC Isilon’s X200 Series scale-out storage was implemented as the platform for its PACS solution. It has not only enabled quick scalability, but maintains system performance as more users and files are added, speeding access to large numbers of recent and historical medical images and records.

Like how speed was critical to saving the lives of Max Rockatansky and Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max as they attempted to escape an entourage of villains, speedy access to information can also save the lives of patients. Every split second counts in medical treatment, sometimes making the difference between life and death.

“In the past, I didn’t want to add too many users to PACS because I knew it would affect the experience of the current users in the system,” says Sunnan Qian, IT Manager at NCH. “Now I can increase the number of PACS users as demand requires with the confidence that performance will be maintained, ensuring we provide our physicians with consistent, fast access to medical records.”

Read the Nanjing Children’s Hospital Case Study to learn more.

Silos Belong in the Scrapyard

Another hospital that has benefited from centralized storage is Tokushima University Hospital (TUH). As a university hospital responsible for providing health-care services to Japan’s Tokushima Prefecture, it has a legal requirement to store certain data and images for a period of time, meaning a greater need for long-term storage than a regular nonteaching hospital.

“Our Data volumes will continue to increase as we become more reliant on technology systems to support diagnosis and treatment,” says Ken’ichiro Shimai, Deputy Director, Medical IT Center, TUH. “New CT and MRI modalities mean huge volumes of image data, added to the images already produced by the cardiovascular, endoscopy, ultrasound, and surgery departments. There volumes of data are growing year-on-year.”

TUH’s IT infrastructure initially comprised between 70 to 100 silo systems, which made it difficult to access patient records easily.

Consider a car chase in Mad Max, and how the protagonists urgently need to reach for a weapon to shake the villains off their tail, but have no idea which car compartment it is in. Information, in the medical context, is a powerful weapon. The ease of accessing it greatly increases the chances of a patient’s survival.

After implementing a similar EMC Isilon X200 storage system, TUH has successfully moved away from its silo-based data systems onto one of centralized management and control, enabling all medical data to be digitized and stored centrally. This ensures patient records remain immediately accessible to medical personnel to assist them in prescribing the most appropriate treatment.

Read the Tokushima University Hospital to learn more.

Backup to the Future

In an article by Financial Times, it discusses how the ability to monitor health indicators constantly – through devices such as wearables – rather than periodically during check-ups can be considered new medicine. These constant data flows may yield insights that force physicians to rethink the way they treat their patients. It’s safe to say that the storage and interpretation of medical data will play an increasingly vital role over the next few years.

About the Author: Yasir Yousuff