HIPAA-compliant disks muscle out tape

FRAMINGHAM (02/19/2004) - Bronson Healthcare Group's just-completed deployment of a disk-based system to meet HIPAA requirements for the long-term storage of patient data is a departure from the norm. Today, healthcare organizations typically use tape drives or write-once, read-many times (WORM) CDs to ensure such data are not altered or deleted.

However, there is a growing trend among healthcare organizations to look for alternatives to their tape and optical storage systems. The reason is that while tape and optical WORM systems have traditionally provided a less expensive way to store data, such systems are often slower and harder to manage. Additionally, the price of disk-based storage has dropped significantly in the past few years, making the difference with comparable tape or WORM storage negligible.

"We currently use an optical jukebox," said Scott Dent, picture archiving and communication system (PACS) administrator at Bronson Healthcare. This system is used to store radiological imaging PACS data, which are generated at a rate of about 1.5 gigabytes per day. About 3 terabytes of data have been stored over the past two years. "But (last year) we started looking for a cost-effective solution based on ATA spinning disks."

The use of the HIPAA-compliant disk-based system will provide faster access to PACS radiological images. And the IT department said the new system should reduce operational and management chores associated with maintaining the long-term storage of the medical imaging data.

However, Dent noted that cheap disk drives alone are not an alternative in the healthcare arena. "We needed HIPAA compliance, too."

Last year, a number of storage vendors -- most notably EMC Corp. and Network Appliance Inc. -- introduced HIPAA-compliant, disk-based storage systems that ensure patient data cannot be tampered with once they are created. Some of these disk-based systems can also be used to meet other regulatory requirements, such as 21 CFR Part 11. It boils down to life-cycle management for data.

Bronson Healthcare was already using NetApp NearStore file servers, so it chose a NetApp software package called SnapLock Compliance, which allows a portion of a storage system's disk space to be designated a WORM drive or volume.

Any data saved to this disk space cannot be modified or deleted, and an administrator can set retention dates for each file. "The SnapLock WORM (technology) ensures data integrity as the files are put into the system," Dent said.

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