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Having a lot in store

Source: Public Sector Executive Mar/Apr 12

Phil Corrin, deputy chief information officer at St Helens & Knowsley Health Informatics, talks to PSE about spiralling digital storage requirements at NHS trusts and what’s being done about it.

Every patient consultation at St Helens & Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in Merseyside is now made without any medical history on paper, as the health records have all been scanned on demand.

With around 200,000 health records scanned, averaging 300 pages each, a lot of data storage and raw computing power is required to deal with it all. The trust’s digital storage requirements have jumped from 10 terabytes to 40 terabytes (that’s 40,000 gigabytes, or 40,000,000 megabytes) in the last three years, with more growth expected. The trust, which runs St Helens and Whiston hospitals, has won awards for its document management systems and was the first to move to a purely digital records system.

Phil Corrin, deputy CIO at St Helens & Knowsley Health Informatics, the shared services centre that manages the trust’s IT systems, said it was both the type of data, and the amount of data that was having an impact. He told PSE: “Document management can be very storage hungry.

“There’s a proliferation of different systems and more image-hungry systems. We don’t have PACs on this storage yet but we plan to, but there are other imaging systems on there. Healthcare needs efficient medical systems – our culture change with the drive for digital health records has driven other systems so the need for storage has increased.”

The trust has recently installed two EMC Symmetrix VMAX systems and now provides cloud-based access to patient data, allowing more of it to be accessed quickly and data to be tiered according to importance.

Corrin said: “We were suffering some performance issues at peak times and we wanted to move to the next level of storage area network, so we went to a competitive tender, looked at all sorts of bids from various manufacturers, and really the best technology out there that had the edge was the EMC technology.

Cloud’s one thing, but this storage really is clever because it manages it, ensures your service levels and you can deliver a certain type of performance for applications without having to worry – so at peak times it can move your application to faster storage, it can move your data down to lower storage if it’s not being used. That drew us towards this technology.”

He explained the IT systems that do not work efficiently or fast enough end up being rejected by clinicians voting with their feet – or with their pens.

He said: “Systems have to be always available, they have to be high performing, there have to be sub-second responses, and if you can’t guarantee availability then no clinician would use a system, because the alternative is pen and paper and that’s always available.

“If you’re having to have conversations with clinicians about reliability, then you’re never going to get the project started.”

In general, he said, clinician feedback to the trust’s digital systems has been good and it has been helping drive efficiencies in emergency care, with the new data storage system set to increase speed further.

He said: “People can see the medical history of a patient who’s just walked in, whereas previously case notes would have been stored in a library and would have had to be sent over, which could take hours.

“It’s very personalised to the consultant, so they can see their daily diary and which patients are in clinics, then the storage underneath has provided this responsiveness, availability, and performance. Patient care is at the centre of every technology decision we take and we need to ensure medical staff have access to the information they need, whenever they need it. As the trust becomes increasingly digitised, our storage requirements are only going to increase.”

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