Survey Finds Hospitals Must Improve Data Management Practices

New report suggests patient data at risk due to inconsistent data backup and archiving methods.

BOSTON – Despite skyrocketing volumes of data, many hospitals still rely on outdated and inefficient practices to backup and archive information, putting data and organizations at risk and unnecessarily straining IT storage budgets. This is the central finding from a study of data backup and archiving practices at hospitals, conducted by HIMSS Analytics, the research and analytics arm of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and sponsored by Iron Mountain Inc., a storage and information management company.

The survey asked 150 senior-level technology professionals at hospitals across the country to assess how they protect data from potential loss or disaster as well as archive it to meet long-term compliance requirements. Among other findings, the survey revealed areas for improvement including:

  • Not all data is created equally. A majority of hospitals said they classify an average of 75% of their clinical data as “active,” meaning they store it onsite for immediate access, a surprising practice given that less than 30 percent of this data is accessed after 18 months, and could be moved to more cost-effective storage mediums.
  • Only half have an archive strategy in place. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported that they have a data archiving strategy in place, with 83% citing compliance as the chief reason. Yet with much of the active data not accessed over time, an archive strategy can help reduce the impact on limited IT budgets.
  • There are data protection danger signs. Thirty-one percent don’t currently have disaster recovery and business continuity plans in place, raising questions on their preparedness to continue delivering care in an emergency situation. And 42% of respondents don’t have a documented data retention policy that specifies how long to keep backup and archival data and when they can destroy it, posing legal and compliance risks for the organization.

“The amount of data flowing through our healthcare system today has rendered the old ways of managing it obsolete,” said Michael Leonard, director of product management, Healthcare IT Services for Iron Mountain. “If you look at this survey, you’ll conclude that most hospitals continue to treat all data the same and don’t sufficiently tier it based on its importance and access requirements. Data vital to the business and near-term clinical operations should be backed up to remote data centers, allowing for fast access and protecting the data from extreme weather events or other disasters that could wipe out onsite servers. Less active data being kept for compliance reasons or future research needs doesn’t require the same level of access and can be stored on offline media.”

For those hospitals looking to improve their data backup and archiving practices, Iron Mountain recommends:

  • Establish clear policies defining what data should be stored where and why. Organizations should base these policies on criteria such as the age of the data and the data type. Once set, these policies provide clarity on how to tier data and choose the right storage medium; e.g., SAN storage, cloud storage and removable media such as magnetic tape cartridges. Organizations following this strategy keep the most current data readily accessible and reduce their storage costs by placing the oldest data onto less expensive media.
  • Policies must account for disaster or data loss. Having the right policies in place for retention, destruction and disaster recovery can help ensure information is protected and available when you need it. First, prioritize the data that’s critical to getting the organization back up and running, then make sure it is stored in the right tier whether that means in the cloud, replicated in a data center, or on magnetic tape cartridges.
  • Consider automation and outsourcing to stay ahead of rising data volumes. As healthcare data volumes continue to grow-some estimates say as much as 40% annually-hospitals should prepare themselves by deploying a data lifecycle management strategy and enlist the help of partners to properly implement data backup and archiving practices. Outsourcing allows hospitals to offload their storage management burden, reducing the need to incur large capital expenses and labor costs.

“By 2015, most hospitals are expected to have undergone a massive, data- and reform-driven transformation,” said Lorren Pettit, vice president, market research, HIMSS Analytics. “Between the conversion to ICD-10 for better coding, meeting Meaningful Use milestones for data sharing at the point-of-care, and the continued influx of EMR/EHR systems, hospitals will have created an exponential proliferation of data volume. As this survey shows, all that data is generating problems that senior healthcare IT executives are not currently considering, making the need to develop a successful strategy to manage and protect that data essential.”

Read the full report.

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