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Budget, Cost, Regulations Dictate HIT Infrastructure Upgrades

How can healthcare organizations balance data volume, compliance regulations, and budget when considering HIT infrastructure improvements for better workflow and improved patient care?

HIT infrastructure

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Keeping up with advanced technology and evolving user expectations while remaining conscious of budget restraints and ROI is one of the biggest challenges facing HIT infrastructure administrators. Not all healthcare organizations function the same, and careful consideration needs to be taken in regards to data volume, compliance, and cost.

The healthcare industry is currently facing a three-way challenge, according to Condusiv Technologies CEO Jim D’Arezzo. Entities are challenged by the volume of data that will continue to grow exponentially, regulatory compliance such as HIPAA, and the cost of providing excellent patient care.

The first issue requires organizations to examine their data and the projected growth of that data. Data needs to not only be stored, but it needs to be easily accessible when needed.

“There's a tsunami of data that is washing over all industries, but in the healthcare industry in particular,” D’Arezzo told HITInfrastructure.com. “Look at the advances that have been made in medical research and development and medical processes, such as the Human Genome Project or the Cancer Moonshot.”

“Today, human whole genome sets are typically hundreds of gigabytes in size,” he continued. “But, current figures indicate that the sequence data is now doubling every seven to nine months. In 2014 you had an estimated 228,000 genomes for sequence, but now the figure is estimated to be over 1.6 billion.”

READ MORE: 40% of Hospitals Spend More on Cloud, Health IT Infrastructure

Data sets are in the terabyte range and are expected to reach petabyte scales. There is more data being collected and used for patient care and it needs to be accommodated in a way that is scalable and cost effective.

The second challenge is the regulatory environment. Organizations often spend money managing the administrative aspects of compliance with the federal requirements.

“You have multiple federal agencies, hundreds of regulations, and a huge cost that's squeezing hospital and medical industry,” said D’Arezzo.

The third obstacle is the overall cost of providing patient care from an IT infrastructure perspective. Hospitals typically have strict budgets and a lack off efficiency can cost money, resulting in staff reductions and cut backs on the IT infrastructure budget, which is meant to provide tools that will increase efficiency and provide a positive ROI.

“Healthcare organizations need to make better use of the existing IT infrastructure, which is a major component of any patient care environment, whether it's a community hospital or major hospital, or a clinic,” D’Arezzo advised.

READ MORE: Budget Restrictions Major Health IT Infrastructure Obstacle

D’Arezzo used an analogy of car maintenance to drive home the point of upgrading IT infrastructure systems even though upfront costs may be daunting.

“If you could go from getting 25 miles a gallon to getting 35 miles a gallon, what would that do?” D’Arezzo prompted. “That would certainly save you a lot of money in fuel costs. If your engine is running more efficiently, it would extend the life of your car.”

Organizations need to get the most out of their IT infrastructure technology. Upgrading it starts with examining hardware, software, and the network. However, there is still the question of keeping costs down. How do entities confront this challenge while keeping the cost within reason?

The advanced technology currently available is a good place to begin planning an upgraded IT infrastructure. Technologies that will improve patient care and workflow are not available to help organizations through their digital transformation.  

“Better imaging for x-rays, cancer and other issues are now available immediately for doctors to assess the status of a patient,” said D’Arezzo. “These things are nearly miracles that weren't possible 40 years ago.”

READ MORE: Healthcare IT Budgets Restrict On-Premise Server Deployments

Patients and clinicians are beginning to expect better technology and for that technology to work seamlessly. Automation is another emerging technology that can significantly improve workflow and patient care.

“Automation has advanced science and it has advanced the quality of healthcare,” D’Arezzo explained. “It’s well understood that automation is a critical part of delivering better healthcare. The ability to have a historical health record, an electronic health record that can be shared across different environments, that's a big boon to patients as well as to hospitals. There are many facets to what automation can do.”

When considering automation, healthcare organizations must strike a balance between providing care and automating what needs to be done in compliance with federal regulations. Automation is the best way to do all this effectively, according to D’Arezzo.

While this technology has immense benefits, organizations still need to be mindful of their budgets, especially in the face of value-based care. Entities must consider how they can benefit from emerging technology without over spending.

The main goal is to unify IT infrastructure systems so they work together better, which will save money over time. Simplifying health IT systems will make them easier to manage over time, but this process isn’t easy.

“The problem is that organizations have many different computer systems,” explained D’Arezzo. “They're trying to integrate disparate computing systems in order to simplify their IT infrastructure. They've confronted the issue and they're making a big budget investment to make that happen.”

Taking advantage of technology like the public cloud can help organizations expand and modernize their IT infrastructure without spending too much money outright. But the public cloud isn’t the answer for all IT infrastructure challenges.

“The public cloud has its pros and cons,” said D’Arezzo. “The pro is that it is infinitely flexible. The big public cloud providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, they've made incredible investments to provide essentially an unlimited computing and storage capability. That's the very positive aspect of it.”

“On the other side of it, there are certain requirements that may demand that data is kept more on-site at the local hospital, or at a nearby location for that particular healthcare provider,” he continued. “It’s a balancing act that IT professionals have to consider when they look into the cloud versus the on-premises decisions.”

As healthcare organizations prepare for their future IT infrastructure they need to thoroughly build a realistic timeline and plan which upgrades will happen first.

“Planning is key,” D’Arezzo advised. “There are important advancements that have been made in technology, such as faster storage and high-performance computing, that should be looked into as they try to balance between what kind of hardware upgrade do they need to have that will help solve their problem with this three-way challenge that is pressuring them.”

The demand for performance from IT infrastructure tools is increasing rapidly. Users want and expect to access their tools and data quickly. This can only be done once IT infrastructure is modernized and functioning at it’s highest capacity.

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