The healthcare industry is changing rapidly, and so is the importance of technology. Technology is now a vital part of the medical field. Better technology saves lives, as doctors use mobile devices to retrieve patient records, provide consultation, and perform clinical trials. Because of this, a hospital's IT infrastructure is now critical to the organization and its success in serving patients. Much of the activity of healthcare technology dependence is focused in three areas:
- Changing Regulations – A provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 took effect in January of 2014 requiring any healthcare providers to adopt a significant and "meaningful use" of electronic medical records in order to maintain their Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. Essentially, any healthcare provider needs to electronically store their medical records or they lose benefits. Furthermore, due to the Privacy Rule by HIPAA, (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) all patients are ensured access to and privacy of their medical records. This means all medical data information is stored much longer to assure access, but also is stored more secure for privacy purposes of those records.
- Increased Patient Number – The number of patients in the healthcare system is increasing, as illustrated over the past several years. This growth generates from two main sources: Baby Boomers and the Affordable Care Act. According to the Hospitals & Health Networks in 2014, 3 million baby boomers will reach retirement age every year for the next 20 years, translating to over 71 million Americans 65 or older by 2029. In addition, more Americans now access healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, creating an increased number of patients visiting doctors. A recent study by the American College of Emergency Physicians showed the number of visits to the Emergency Room and the severity of the injuries seen increased as well. Because of this, more people receive care, requiring additional testing, scans, and procedures, which increases patient records.
- Technology adoption – Technology now makes providing care to patients easier than ever. Many physicians use video conferencing to interact with patients with questions, without requiring them to come in for a visit. Medical imaging is also becoming much more advanced, which means the amount of data each image takes is much higher. The average size of an MRI image in 2005 was less than 50 MB. That increased to over 80 MB by 2011, and is now over 100 MB per image. The file size of each image will increase further as 3D imaging becomes more mainstream. Hospitals use PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) to store their imaging data. PACS storage increased from 8,900 TB in 2005 to over 27,000 TB in 2011, with heavily increased growth since 2011. Furthermore, plans are in place to allow real time data of your diet, physical activity, and vitals to be streamed to your healthcare provider in order to give patients quick and accurate treatments. Heart rate monitors, pedometers, smart watches, and other wearable technology can be connected to the internet to stream data to healthcare providers. For example, a pacemaker in a patient's heart with smart capabilities could be able to stream data to their doctor in real-time, alerting them immediately if any issues arise. Current estimates are that one-third of the 1.4 billion smartphone users have some type of health app on their phone.
As technology use in the medical field grows, so does the need for data centers. Many healthcare companies have outdated IT infrastructure needing a makeover. Other companies built new data centers internally, but did not anticipate the significant growth of patients and are now looking for more efficient data center solutions. Some healthcare providers are currently exploring cloud storage and hybrid data center opportunities to provide a quick, secure, and easily scalable data center solution. The fix is not simple, however. Healthcare companies also need quality data centers with sufficient compliance and redundancy to ensure the maximum amount of uptime. Due to technology breakthroughs and the ever increasing number of people in the healthcare system, this need will only further increase in the future.