In healthcare, fast access to critical patient data can mean the difference between life and death. If doctors can’t get the patient’s information they need when they need it, the quality of care can be severely compromised with potentially unpredictable consequences.
This means that the storage and protection of data is of vital importance in healthcare.
Downtime must be avoided at all costs – even in the event of a catastrophic failure, whether that’s a natural disaster or cyberattack.
However here’s the problem: storing, securing and intelligently managing data has become increasingly difficult, time-consuming and expensive for healthcare organisations.
There are several reasons for this. To begin with, the volume of healthcare data is growing at an astronomical rate, driven in part by necessary efforts at healthcare organisations to digitise all their patient health records.
Another driver of data growth is diagnostic devices like CT scanners, MRIs and X-ray machines, which produce massive amounts of imaging data. As these technologies continue to advance, the image files they produce become better, have higher resolution and grow larger and larger in file-size.
As hospitals are generally required to store medical images for seven years in accordance with disaster recovery compliance requirements, their image archives are expanding by as much as 40 per cent annually, according to AT&T ForHealth division.
The Internet of Things is yet another driver of the data management challenge for healthcare organisations. Connected devices like fitness monitors and in-room sensors all produce their own streams of data, all of which must be stored and managed.
Add it all up and the storage demand at even a small medical practice or hospital can quickly reach petabyte-size. However the challenge does not stop there - as the data grows, the time, budget and resources required to store, protect and manage this critical patient data grows as well.
What healthcare organisations need is a data management and data protection solution that delivers constant, uninterrupted data availability. In addition to being reliable, the solution must be affordable, so it doesn’t break the budget. This is a huge ask, to say the least.
The solution must also guard against ransomware and cyberattacks, because healthcare organisations are increasingly under attack from a growing list of threats. For example, ransomware can infect a hospital’s vital patient data or information systems and hold them hostage.
Hospitals are particularly susceptible to this kind of extortion due to their dependence on up-to-the-minute information from patient records. Without quick access to their information systems, hospitals simply cannot do their job.
For hackers, hospitals are a great target because they can’t risk the lives of their patients and are therefore much more likely to pay ransom.
This is partly why healthcare suffered more ransomware attacks than any other industry in 2017, according to a report from global cybersecurity insurance company Beazley. The report found that 45 per cent of all ransomware attacks in 2017 were aimed at the healthcare sector.
The good news is that the market offers solutions designed to handle the ever-increasing amounts of healthcare data securely and cost-effectively, ensuring that quality care is never jeopardised by lack of access to vital information.
Here are five ways healthcare organisations can protect themselves against the triple threat of out of control data costs, system downtime and loss of data integrity:
1: Look for converged primary and secondary storage
To properly deal with explosive data growth, healthcare facilities need an approach that delivers comprehensive storage and data protection services in a single, integrated and easy-to-use solution. By integrating primary, secondary and cloud data-management capabilities, healthcare organisations can eliminate storage and data protection silos while decreasing the risk of any downtime.
2: Benefit from cost-effective, scale-out storage
Small and medium-size healthcare practices and hospitals face many of the same data challenges as very large healthcare providers, but they have fewer resources and smaller budgets available. That’s why they need scalable storage that will adapt to their data needs. Healthcare organisations should be able to start with a single node with a few terabytes of capacity, then seamlessly and non-disruptively scale to multiple petabytes with zero configuration or application changes.
3: Protect against data degradation
Medical images, in particular, are highly vulnerable to data degradation. The silent corruption of data in medical images caused by bit rot is a significant concern. The problem is compounded because legacy systems store images such as X-rays to a picture archiving and communication system and may not detect if data has been compromised. As a result, the information read from the legacy storage system may be corrupt and unusable. Healthcare organisations need modern data solutions that can guard against this kind of data degradation.
4: Inoculate against ransomware
Data protection is a top priority for healthcare organisations as they battle against the constant threat of cyberattacks. Healthcare providers need to have strong encryption throughout the data lifecycle without having undue management complexity. The answer to this challenge is immutable object storage. Modern healthcare organisations solve this issue by implementing a storage solution that protects information continuously and takes data snapshots every 90 seconds. Because the object store is immutable, these snapshots remain completely unaffected in the event of an attack. As a result, healthcare organisations can recover the most recent version of data, and thus thwart any ransomware attack.
5. Insist on a tangible ROI
Cyberattacks are increasingly common and as a result, hospitals are seeking insurance policies that provide coverage in the event of a data breach or loss. As every medical record is assigned a dollar value by insurance companies as part of the risk assessment, this can quickly add up to tens of millions of dollars in premiums. However, these insurance premiums can be reduced when hospitals can demonstrate they have effective data management and protection strategies in place. Recently, one healthcare provider was facing a $22 million insurance premium, but was able to reduce this premium by deploying an appropriate data management and protection solution, thereby delivering immediate ROI on the project from day one. With the right data management solution, healthcare facilities can not only protect their data and decrease costs, they can better treat their patients and ultimately save more lives.
Florian Malecki is the Senior International Director of Marketing at StorageCraft.