Cardiac Group Drives Off into the Cloud

Two years ago, the IT staff at Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute (HVI) had a love-hate relationship with cardiac images.

The eight-location group, part of the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, was producing about 25,000 specialized cardiac images each year and was required by state law to archive the nearly half million more it had created over the past seven years. The images, which are actually multi-frame moving pictures of the heart, give physicians critical information on the 114,000 patients they saw each year, helping them diagnose and evaluate cardiac conditions, as well as monitor treatments.

But despite their intrinsic value to the group, managing the intensive images – which are more like short movies than a traditional X-ray – quickly became difficult for IT staff.  Over the past several years they exhausted a variety of different storage technologies, including videotapes, DVDs, and terabyte drives to try to contain the massive files.

“Our volume is so high we just eat through terabytes,” says Kevin Yee, administrator for the cardiology group.

Image storage, however wasn’t the only issue. Physicians sometimes had a difficult time accessing the images over Henry Ford’s internal network, which already was bogged down with other competing data requests. So IT staff had to back them up during off hours and closely monitor drive capacity. Additionally, they had to ensure storage and access to the images complied with federal and state privacy and security laws.

Because each Henry Ford department is responsible for its own needs, the cardiology group quickly began searching for a better solution to its image storage problem. But it didn’t have the funds or time to build and manage the type of in-house, long-term storage it required.

“Hospitals have very small capital budgets for things like this,” said Yee. “They’re trying to replace equipment in the operating rooms, instead of servers to store images.”

So the cardiology group decided to store its archived images elsewhere. Using cloud storage technology from AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management, it uploaded all of its archived cardiac images—and database—from its various locations to a single virtual archived storage service for future access. Additionally, after a year of storage on a local EMC storage technology, it permanently removes each image from the practice and uploads it into the cloud service where it will remain for the seven-year mandated period.

Now cardiologists can more easily access the archived heart images from virtually any location—using AT&T dedicated lines to the department or the Internet—instead of the group’s busy internal network. And the cloud storage service offers the technology components as well as secure current and archived image backup at two geographically dispersed data centers, offering HVI the additional privacy and security features it needed to better comply with federal and state laws.

Further, the group is using the cloud storage service on a “pay as you go” model, enabling it to only pay for the space it currently needs, but also have the ability to upgrade as it needs to in the future.

Now that the cloud computing service has been up and running for more than a year at Henry Ford, IT staff has the time and funds to focus on other projects, Yee says.

“As imaging systems change and require more capacity or adopt different standards, we don’t have to bear any of the costs of upgrades,” Yee explained. “It saves money for the department and the health system as a whole.”