Medical imaging is a vital component of modern healthcare. Images are needed in most medical interventions. It’s estimated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that 300 million imaging procedures, such as X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds, are performed each year.
Just as written medical records have converted to electronic health records (EHR), medical images have undergone the transition to digital. Also, like their written counterparts, medical facilities must deal with storage issues and interoperability hurdles – the ability of the images to be shared by different systems.
Google, through its Google Cloud Platform, is aggressively moving into this territory, linking with several health IT imaging companies in a push to move medical imaging to the cloud.
One of those health IT companies is Change Healthcare. Change hopes to use Google’s analytics infrastructure and artificial intelligence capabilities to make it easier for Change Healthcare users on the Google Cloud platform to share and analyze medical images.
Health IT imaging company Dicom Systems also is partnering with Google to introduce a cloud imaging archive. Storing medical images in the cloud enables healthcare organizations to spend less money on the equipment needed to store them on-premises. It also greatly increases the ability for organizations to share images.
Cloud storage does have many advantages for medical images, proponents say, among them cost, scalability, elasticity, enhanced exchange and advanced visualization and analytics.
However, many healthcare organizations face obstacles in fully adopting the cloud for medical imaging storage. For this reason, many are choosing a hybrid cloud approach, a system which combines on-premises storage with both public and private cloud storage.
Among the reasons some organizations favor a hybrid approach:
- The time it takes to transfer large image files stored on the cloud
- Concerns about quality of service with a purely cloud system
- Fears of putting vital information completely in the hand of a vendor
“Cloud is inevitable,” radiologist Paul Chang from the University of Chicago Medicine said in an interview with Tech Target’s Search Health IT. However, he cautioned, “If we start putting mission-critical systems up in the cloud now, I have to depend on someone else. I have to depend on Google or Amazon or Microsoft to make sure that the images are there safely and [don’t] get hacked.”
“When it comes to online medical imaging storage, security is something of a double-edged sword,” writes Brien Posey in another Tech Target piece. Well-known cloud storage providers have top-notch security, Posey writes, “cloud storage providers advertise the fact that they are in the business of storing people’s data. What could possibly make for a more tempting target than a place that advertises it has been entrusted with countless terabytes of sensitive data?”
Still, it seems cloud storage is all but inevitable. “The volume of images and data coming into organizations makes tapes an impractical way to store the information because there is a higher risk that the data will be physically lost or misplaced in the data center,” writes Elizabeth O’Dowd on the HIT Infrastructure website.
“Large public cloud platforms like Google can give organizations unlimited expansion potential for medical images,” O’Dowd writes. “Some organizations may still be skeptical, but public cloud service providers are making efforts to accommodate the unique needs of the healthcare industry.”