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Top Data Center Trends in Healthcare

January 21, 2017

Next year will see a continuation of current data center trends in healthcare, with increased adoption of technologies like cloud and big data analytics. Along with the benefits of these technologies will come increased challenges in data security and privacy. Here's a look at some of the major technology trends impacting healthcare data centers.

Outsourcing to the Cloud

As much as 80 percent of data generated by the healthcare industry will be in the cloud by 2020. It's already the case that an average healthcare firm uses nearly 1,000 cloud services, with employees using close to 30 cloud services daily. Cloud computing offers healthcare providers scalable and cost-effective infrastructure, and it's becoming more common for cloud vendors to sign business-associate agreements required to meet HIPAA requirements, enabling healthcare firms to partially outsource their security needs as well.

The growth of electronic health records (EHRs) is increasing demands on healthcare providers; rather than replace file rooms with server rooms, many are moving to have records hosted by the EHR vendor at a secure facility. The growth of big data is another motivation for moving data to the cloud. Pulling disparate datasets together in the cloud allows operational, clinical, and financial data to be aggregated in big data analytics processes.

Big Data Moves from Administration Offices onto the Floor

Half of all hospitals are expected to make use of analytics by 2016, and the growth will continue into the future, with big data spending reaching more than $4 billion by 2020. Big data will become part of the daily life of healthcare workers. Rather than simply generating static reports reviewed by administrators seeking to reduce costs, front-line workers on the hospital floor will use big data in the form of real-time dashboards that aid decision-making. Ultimately, predictive analytics will help support personalized medicine. The large amounts of data needed are a natural fit for the cloud; healthcare firms are also looking at tiered storage as a way to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Growth of Mobile Health

Mobile health (mHealth) will continue to grow, with 65 percent of healthcare activity conducted via mobile devices by 2018. The mHealth market is estimated to reach $18 billion in 2016 and $31 billion by 2020. In one telehealth survey, 69 percent of patients preferred to get their care without visiting the hospital. The telemedicine market is expected to grow at 14.3 percent through 2020, partly due to the fact that more insurance companies now offer coverage for these visits. Even when consultations take place in person, mobile devices are likely to be part of the process; surveys show about three-quarters of doctors use some kind of mobile device during patient care.

In addition to official medical consultations conducted remotely, consumer wearables generate additional data, monitoring everything from the number of steps taken during the day to the number of snores at night. All of these data will eventually be transmitted to healthcare providers and processed in the providers’ analytics.

Growth in Sharing Data and Security Concerns

While information and privacy concerns are more serious in the healthcare industry than in almost any other industry, data sharing will see significant growth. This is, to a great extent, due to new rules for "meaningful use" of EHRs, which require an application programming interface for shared access to health records. Sixty percent of providers currently share information with their patients, though only 40 percent exchange patient data with other providers.

All that extra data sharing will only increase the security risks in healthcare, and those risks are already substantial. Last year, 42 percent of significant breaches were in the healthcare industry. There are also special security considerations related to medical devices attached to the network; hackers could gain access to alter pacemakers or insulin pumps through wireless networks, resulting not in data loss but in physical harm. The heavy use of doctors’ personal smartphones and tablets on a facility’s network means smart BYOD (“bring your own device”) controls are needed to ensure security of data accessed on these devices.

Besides the risk of external attacks, the industry faces significant loss of data due to unsecured laptops that are lost or stolen. Healthcare businesses will be deploying more data loss prevention software in order to secure against the loss of protected health information. They will also be looking at security software in order to satisfy compliance requirements, including HIPAA and HITECH.