Insider Intelligence indicates the global healthcare market to reach $665 billion, while the U.S. national healthcare expenditure presented $4.1 trillion in 2021. It drives two distinct conclusions. First, there will be an increasing use of healthcare software services because the industry is driven by digitalization and innovation. Second, digitization brings a growing volume of data that needs to be stored and processed, which boosts demand for efficient healthcare data management.
It is safe to say that the success of digitization within the healthcare industry, in general, and mHealth, in particular, depends on the proper selection of data storage and management options, along with learning from previous best practices. Further, let’s explore these options and best practices and expand the topic by suggesting the benefits and challenges of healthcare data management and storage solutions.
What Constitutes Healthcare Data?
Simply put, data is every type of information that one can translate into a particular form making processing more efficient. In such a case, healthcare data is every bit of information generated by patients, providers, physicians, administrators, and many more. The key is translating these data into actionable insights that can improve the industry. Considering the size of the current healthcare IT market, a vast amount of data is waiting to be processed (see Fig. 1).
In contrast to data in industries like insurance and automotive, healthcare data directly relates to health conditions and is represented by Protected Health Information (PHI) and Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). While there are up to 18 distinct PHI identifiers, the broader take suggests the common sources of data in healthcare are the following:
- Electronic Health Records (EHR). This data source includes all the information on the patient’s health status and medical history. Developing a good EHR platform means you can have an accurate perspective on a patient’s health.
- Claims. These are billing and payment codes a vendor submits to insurance companies.
- Health surveys. Public health is assessed using this data source. It shows the health status on a grand scale and helps design and implement health policies.
- Patient register. A relevant data source covers secondary information on clinical outcomes within a patient’s medical history.
- Clinical trial data. This data is obtained from health-related interventions when assessing specific health outcomes. The approach is most often used in drug development and medical device trials.
- Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) data. PACS is a distinct approach to storing, capturing, and assessing image-based medical data. CTs and MRIs generate these images.
Healthcare Data Management and Storage Benefits
As we showed before, the healthcare software development market is booming. Respectively, one can also assume the healthcare data storage and management market is growing. And the evidence confirms that assumption (see Fig. 2).
The growth of markets linked to data management and storage stems from the benefits of new technologies in these realms. Let’s explore some of the notable advantages.
Better Data Growth
With the emergence of aspects like Big Data, better data storing and management practices offer the most seamless means to handle any information. Besides, with the healthcare industry undergoing digital transformation, you must expect irreversible data growth. Data storage and management help prepare for such development.
Greater Data Access Control
To handle data correctly, you need to have access to it. Healthcare data storage solutions ensure clinicians and physicians have information at their fingertips when it is most needed. It all leads to the emergence of more excellent value.
Any healthcare software working with PHIs and ePHIs must be HIPAA-compliant. For instance, if you want to develop a telemedicine platform, you must cover all aspects of the HIPAA checklist. In such a context, a proper data storage solution ensures better compliance by allowing healthcare vendors to maintain aspects like data access or data authorization.
Healthcare data storage methods drive innovation. They ensure a healthcare provider has all the up-to-date data analytics and processing capabilities. It boosts R&D within healthcare segments and helps adopt innovation seamlessly.
A properly functioning healthcare organization is one with a particular degree of coordination involved. In such a case, knowing how to manage data sources in healthcare grants better access and sharing of health records and PHIs regardless of the vendor’s location. Such transfer improves internal coordination.
Reduced Operational Costs
Every company looks to reduce its operational costs. Appealing to technologies like cloud computing grants better healthcare data management and storage capabilities. As a result, vendors cut healthcare expenses by avoiding expenses for hardware maintenance.
Digitalization and innovation bring tools like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to healthcare. These technologies are all about better data analytics through algorithms designed to do just so. To illustrate, AI and ML within innovative healthcare applications can analyze millions of patient records and correlate the insights to health trends for better diagnosing. In addition, healthcare big data analytics can be the next evolutionary step in healthcare data storage solutions.
Improved Patient Service
Not only retail is the industry betting on a great customer experience. Healthcare providers can develop tools for handling appointments and scheduling with properly adopted data storage and management solutions. It takes patient experience to a whole new level.
Keeping the benefits above in mind, there are a lot of ways healthcare data storage solutions can aid administrators, clinicians, and patients. However, for innovative tools like mHealth services technologies to bring value, it is essential to address some pressing challenges.
Challenges of Data Storage and Management in Healthcare
With healthcare data storage projected to reach $6.12 billion by 2027, there is a growing need to address some key issues that can thwart the market’s development. Aspects like security, quality of infrastructure, maintenance, and scalability are the ones to consider.
With the impact of digitalization comes a darker side brought by the increasing trend in data breaches. While this phenomenon affects almost all industries using digital technologies, the healthcare industry is at the top of the list (see Fig.3).
The adoption of high-quality cybersecurity services is paramount in the context of healthcare data storage solutions integration. This report indicates that about 45 million medical images and other PHIs were recently exposed in countries like France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Using top-grade encryption and elements like multi-factor authentication should always come along with data storage and management solutions. Data security in healthcare software is something vendors should pay particular attention to.
Digitization brings high demands for healthcare data management. In turn, the growing volumes of data can only be managed with a large and sophisticated infrastructure intact. Often, such types of infrastructure depend on costly on-premise hardware solutions unless some more cost-effective options are found.
Having an on-premise healthcare data storage solution up and running can be a costly endeavor. More specifically, it entails investment and operational costs. In short, healthcare data storage solutions often result in expenditures for regular maintenance, constant upgrades, hardware, software, utilities, and disaster recovery packages. Besides, companies often pay experts to troubleshoot any risks and issues with the infrastructure that might happen.
Thus, to effectively store and manage data sources in healthcare, you need to take care of data security and infrastructure size. And have a budget dedicated to covering maintenance costs.
Healthcare Data Storage Options
Now, with all the pros and cons of healthcare data storage solutions, it is time to explore some options for storing and managing healthcare information.
Now, migrating to the cloud is the option many industries use. This trend drives the market up and sets a bright future for cloud computing (see Fig. 4).
In general, cloud-based data storage is all about saving costs because you do not need any on-premise hardware, and it also provides the following aspects:
- Faster data backup
- Top-grade security
- Expansion options
- Automated back-end
- Easier compliance
The cloud-based tool is an excellent substitute for on-premise solutions. However, the success of your chosen option also depends on whether you use a public or hybrid cloud.
Many companies consider the public cloud as the primary cloud computing solution. Tools like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform offer a public harbor for any data. This sub-option entails a low-cost, pay-per-use payment model, data access expansion, and accessible scalability elements. In turn, the public cloud entails more significant data privacy concerns and has downtime risks.
A hybrid cloud option is the one balancing between the public cloud and on-premise data storage. It means you have part of your infrastructure stored on-premise, the other part stored in the cloud, and everything managed by a third-party provider. The upside of such a healthcare data storage solution is the on-premise type of security, disaster recovery package, and cloud-based scalability. As to the downsides, the option is complicated in terms of implementation and is not portable.
On-premise data storage and management options essentially mean all the data is sorted within the premises of a healthcare organization. Usually, it entails having a dedicated data center. To illustrate, you will need to store data if you consider developing a telemedicine application or a telehealth solution. These solutions often work with patient data. In such a case, on-premise healthcare data storage offers the best security possible.
Moreover, with an on-premise option, you get total control over data. In contrast, this method entails high capital and operating costs and has significant scaling challenges. Luckily, you can always couple an on-premise server with a cloud by having a hybrid or private cloud. On-premise data storage option costs the most, while it offers the best security in return if the human factor is eliminated.
Secondary Healthcare Data Storage Solutions
While on-premise, cloud, or something in between are the primary data storage and management options, some less-known choices are also available. These are the following:
- Storage area networks (SAN). SAN is a network of storage devices with multilateral access to various servers. It often uses fiber channels to transfer data quickly — an excellent healthcare data management option for PACS.
- Network-attached storage (NAS). NAS is a single storage device granting data access to a particular network. It connects providers to areas via the Local Area Network (LAN).
- External storage. Data can always be stored on hard drives, SSDs, and even tapes. This option is handy, yet it lacks security and durability.
- Outsourced storage. Many healthcare providers outsource their IT infrastructure needs. This report indicates that almost 93% of healthcare organizations use this option. While it takes the issue of data storage and management off your hands thoroughly, this solution costs a lot.
Choosing the right option is about balancing cost, security, and scalability. For instance, the on-premise option is secure yet costly. The public cloud option is cheap yet least secure.
Healthcare Data Management Best Practices
As we covered the key options for healthcare data storage solutions, it is time to proceed to the best practices. Effectively, it all boils down to aspects like governance, quality, automation, and interoperability.
Proper healthcare data management originate from developing a correct data governance strategy. It includes people, devices, processes, and technologies that would be linked to data. To ensure data governance:
- Consider categorizing your system to tag PHIs
- Track authorization and access permissions
- Update data storage regularly
Inadvertently, healthcare records will have errors. The data quality depends on how well you manage them. In such a case, a healthcare data storage solution is delivered through data standardization, removal of data clones, flagging mistakes, and matching information from different sources. Keep your data clean and organized.
Sources of data in healthcare can massively aid from automation. Evidence indicates that the U.S. medical sector saves $122 billion yearly by automating administrative processes. In the same manner, automation boosts data storage and management. You can automate everything from medical billing to customer services.
Last but not least, there is a factor of interoperability to consider. Healthcare data process solutions need effective means for exchanging, using, and interpreting medical information. In short, interoperability offers better communication and less need for repeated testing. Essentially, with a seamless flow of information, various parts of the healthcare organization do not need to repeat tasks, thus wasting valuable time.
The quality of data storage and data management in mHealth and healthcare, in general, depends on the option you choose. It can be either on-premise or cloud-based. Also, you can balance between the two and have the best from both approaches. However, it would help if you always kept cost, security, and infrastructure in mind, regardless of the method. An effective healthcare data storage solution must be built on a proper foundation. After choosing the option, it is time to think about governance, quality, automation, and interoperability. If you do not want to bother with that, there is always an opportunity to hire someone to do the heavy lifting. However, in any other case, ensure you have the tools and instruments that help harness the best healthcare data management and storage practices.