Doctors and nurses looking at a laptop

Healthcare Data in a Digital World

22 Feb 2016 by Christine Kern

It’s no secret healthcare is a data-rich environment. But much of the information is isolated in databases that lack real-time connectivity and the context of real-time events. Although this data can be interpreted as a means to eventually reduce costs and improve outcomes, most healthcare organizations are unable to leverage its power because of its sheer volume and variety. A simple workflow is necessary that can easily move data between locations and across disparate systems in a safe, secure manner, and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The rapid changes in the healthcare industry over the past decade reflect the dynamic and powerful impact of Information Technology on business strategy and execution. As the Gartner report published October 2015, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” asserts, “These changes are leading to the development of the digital economy and forcing heads of data centers to focus on agility, innovation and gaining a competitive advantage. However, data centers must also use the latest technologies and integrate through intelligent software layers.”

Data centers then and now

What was once a burdensome operational cost center has become a critical component in delivering quality and accurate patient care, ensuring regulatory compliance, and enabling collaboration and instruction. Today’s stakeholder groups for data centers have shifted from facilities, IT and security personnel to a broader range, including healthcare professionals, the chief medical officer, chief of health information management, and sustainability, compliance and safety managers.

The concept of data centers — one large mainframe with infrastructure and storage elements kept in a room — has been around since the 1960s. While there have been changes in technology for power and cooling, and improvements in the design and build of these structures, their basic function and core requirements have stayed the same. These are focused on high levels of availability and redundancy; strong, well-documented processes to manage change; traditional vendor management; and segmented organizational structures. But this method no longer works for the digital world.

As the amount of information being generated in healthcare is growing exponentially, organizations are turning more frequently to digital solutions to store and analyze it securely while increasing accessibility for healthcare professionals.

The changing role of healthcare data centers

According to Cisco, data center architecture for healthcare needs to meet growing requirements, including the need for interaction between caregivers and patients to deliver immediate information, even remotely; the elimination of paper and analog media, and the transition to a digital environment; and a collaborative atmosphere that involves professionals in data interpretations and patient care.

Today’s healthcare providers have a host of options for data storage, including new or renovated facilities located on or off campuses, outsourcing to third-party operators and cloud services. According to Healthcare Design’s 2014 Corporate Rankings Survey, 43% of architecture, engineering and construction firms were working on data center projects in 2013, up from 37% in 2012.

These projects will remain prevalent as healthcare organizations struggle to keep up with changes to compliance regulations, including HIPAA’s meaningful use requirement, which incentivizes providers to implement Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology to achieve improved patient care and also secure protected health information. The pressure for hospitals to increase data center capacity and availability has never been greater, thanks to federal regulation, bring-your-own-device strategies and practices, and the rise of big data.

Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act is bringing higher numbers of patients into the healthcare system, increasing the volume of EHRs and other information, furthering the need for strong data structures.

Tomorrow’s healthcare data center

Healthcare organizations need to create a modern data center strategy that allows them to capitalize on the massive amount of data they collect to create actionable outcomes. Key challenges for infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders include becoming more responsive to new application demands, security considerations and limits of control.

"As a new digital world emerges from the dual impact of the Nexus of Forces (cloud, social, mobile and information) and the Internet of Things, the personality, structure and role of data centers will need to be changed, or business agility and competitive strength will be compromised,” according to Gartner.

Over the next five years, the profile, topology and purpose of data centers must change dramatically from design and implementation to operation. Download Gartner’s report published October 2015, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” to learn its recommendations for a modern data center strategy, including three different data center personality models to classify your healthcare workloads.