The thought of migrating your organization's medical image data to the cloud may seem formidable, but success can be achieved through a thoughtful planning and migration approach. For example, data migration can be done in stages. Also, migration does not have to be an all-or-nothing undertaking. For many organizations, a hybrid approach may make the most sense. You can customize the solution that's appropriate for your organization and find the right balance between premise-based data centers and cloud-based services (whether public or private). You decide what to put in the cloud and how accessible it needs to be.
A hybrid approach allows an organization to continue to leverage existing investments in data center storage until its space is maxed out or its life has depreciated before potentially migrating entirely to the cloud. For example, an organization could retain current patient records on site while storing older data/images in the cloud. Or an organization could choose to store a second copy of all images and use the cloud as part of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Another option would be to store a third copy in the cloud as part of a full clinical continuity plan.
Three phases of successful data migration
There are three main phases (and a number of steps) to ensuring successful image data migration to the cloud, and all should be undertaken in coordination with your cloud services provider. Here's a brief outline to give you an idea of what you may need to consider.
Phase 1: Discovery and planning
To get your project off on the right foot, you need to get executive buy-in and agreement on basics like business drivers, objectives, timeline, success metrics, and the decision-making process. During this phase you should also:
o Develop your cloud strategy and data migration plan, including what historical studies will be stored or copied to the cloud
o Select a cloud services provider
o Determine if there is an opportunity to purge historical studies
o Consider use of storage/archive tiers or deep archive in the cloud
o Establish a cross-departmental "migration team" to manage the project
Phase 2: Execution
After your data migration plan is in place, you'll work with your cloud provider on items such as PACS configuration, data cleansing set-up and testing, prefetching set-up if applicable (enables studies/documents to load faster), monitoring tools set-up and training, and launching the data migration process. During this phase you'll also want to:
o Communicate regularly with stakeholders on project status
o Allow for time to test the retrieval time for studies stored in the cloud environment and make sure those times meet your service level agreements that you have with your clinical users
o Test networks and traffic during time of migration and retrieve data
Phase 3: Monitoring
As part of the engagement with your cloud services provider, your organization will be responsible for monitoring the migration process daily and stopping/starting the migration as needed to address any issues. Your responsibilities may include:
o Daily review of monitoring tools; start/stop of migration as needed
o Daily monitoring of source archive and any configuration required
o Periodic audit of image quality
o Monitoring the quality of data and successful sends and received store of data
o Monitor your automated retrieval times against service level agreement criteria for supporting access to older data in the cloud for comparisons and for ad-hoc queries of older data
o Determining the quality measurement on the data for completeness within the data fields as well as assuring the cloud environment has received and stored the data that was sent
Some pain, big gain
Migrating medical images to the cloud is a critical part of the industry's solution to providing timely access to patient information at the point of care and improving patient outcomes while reducing costs. Perceived barriers such as security and cost, while valid concerns, should no longer hold organizations back. Cloud-based services can actually be more secure than a local server when managed by an industry-leading cloud service provider that meets best-practice security technology, process and framework that support HIPAA and HITECH requirements. And, with customized solutions and a phased approach, data migration costs can be made manageable for most organizations. Will the process be painless? Of course not. But with a sound strategy in place and an experienced cloud services partner at your side, any pain will be well worth the significant gain.
Barbara White is Director, AT&T ForHealth Cloud Solutions.