IMAGINE if your doctor could give you test results in minutes rather than days or weeks. Technology could make it possible, but only if the healthcare industry acknowledges it has a big problem: A data problem.
Every day, vast networks of physicians, specialists, patients, pharmacies, insurers and hospitals exchange millions of claims, forms, diagnoses, images, prescriptions, referrals and medical research.
Today, that information - say the MRI on your old football injury - increasingly is digitised. But much remains paper-based.
More than US$850bil (RM2.6 trillion) is wasted each year on duplicate lab tests, preventable conditions and inefficient paper-based systems, according to a recent Thomson Reuters report.
The benefits of rapid, electronic sharing of medical records are significant. As the healthcare industry moves from paper to electronic medical record-keeping, a crucial need has become evident: How to store and manage all those ones and zeros.
And healthcare is not alone. The world is drowning in data. Soon, it's estimated there will be one trillion Internet-connected devices in the world.
Every day, 15 petabytes of new information is generated - 8x more than the information in all the libraries in the United States.
This year the amount of digital information generated is expected to reach 988 exabytes - equivalent to the amount of information if books were stacked from the Sun to Pluto and back.
The research firm IDC says that the world's data already exceeds available storage space - and demand for storage capacity will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 43% in the next three years. The nature of data is changing - from "structured" forms such as numbers to "unstructured" information such as video, e-mail and pictures.
Other affected industries include media and entertainment. Between 2009 and 2015, that industry will see about a 10x increase in the required digital storage capacity per year, according to a recent study from Coughlin Associates. The media industry captures, transports, ingests, processes and archives many petabytes of video, audio and images annually.
Until now, the only way to capture and process digital content for growing amounts of data was through the use of videotape cassettes and different removable media - a slow and expensive process.
The new method revolves around simple, inexpensive ways to manage the large archives created by this class of information. That requires better ways to store data, prioritise it and eliminate redundancies.
The good news is these technologies exist and are getting more sophisticated. Companies in every industry now have the ability to compress or shrink data, thus reducing the need for expensive physical storage space. They can get rid of duplicate data and increase efficiency.
One healthcare provider has taken advantage of innovative new services and technology to eliminate duplicate healthcare records, routing the most urgent records to one place for rapid access and analysis, while placing other records in a more cost-effective medium.
As a result, the provider has dramatically reduced the times required to access and restore data, cut the window for responding to requests from hours to minutes, and reduced physical storage of records by more than 90%.
Healthcare providers also can benefit from technology that takes the most urgent healthcare records and route them to rapid, solid-state storage mechanisms (the same technology used in the iPod) while sending other information (such as that needed to be stowed away under government regulations) to more cost-effective tape storage.
The role of IT within the healthcare provider setting will continue to evolve over time. 2011 has already seen changes in the approach to IT infrastructure and, specifically, storage.
The amount of storage required in support of legacy and new healthcare applications will continue to increase. Changing dynamics in healthcare provider settings will also impact traditional storage purchasing patterns and influence new purchasing trends.
Opportunities for storage, specifically in the healthcare provider segment will result from a series of factors - from the implementation of vendor-neutral archives by providers, to the use of object-based storage architectures optimised for medical images.
This also includes adoption of client virtualisation and the centralisation of storage for distributed client images, and proliferation of inpatient and ambulatory EMR will drive Net-new storage deployments. Another definite new area of opportunity in the future would be around the use of cloud storage for medical image archive data.
As healthcare providers explore and embrace these innovations, you may no longer have to wait long for those lab test results. And the bill to pay for it may be lower.
Now just imagine the same scenarios across a range of industries - from media and entertainment, to retail and financial services - and you can see the possibilities for a range of new and improved services that can improve our quality of life.
(Hemanth Kumar Kalikiri is general manager of the systems & technology group at IBM Malaysia)