LenzAs part of our focus on the healthcare sector in the lead up to HIMSS 2016, we sat down with Scott Lenz, Senior Manager of Healthcare Alliances at NetApp. We asked Scott to talk with us about the major changes that healthcare providers are facing as they optimize their transition to Electronic Health Records (EHR). According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) the number of hospitals using enterprise EHR systems quadrupled between 2010 and 2015. Here’s what Scott had to say:

GovDataDownload (GDD): These days it seems that delivering quality healthcare is as much about technology as it is about doctors and hospitals. What’s happening in the healthcare sector and why is IT so fundamental to successful patient outcomes?

Scott Lenz (SL): Healthcare providers have been on the leading edge of the technology-driven world for several years now. While many industries talk about how information technology is changing the way their personnel do their jobs, healthcare providers are adopting new technologies to deliver better patient care and better health outcomes every day. In the last few years clinicians have moved from working with fragmented, paper-based systems to working with electronic health records (EHR) in highly integrated systems that provide a complete story of medical care, driving better patient outcomes. When correctly configured and implemented, EHRs offer an always-available pathway to data that can improve patient diagnoses, reduce overall costs and ultimately eliminate downtime, even in the case of a disaster scenarios.

GDD: What are some of the challenges faced by CIOs of large healthcare organizations?

SL: The investments in IT infrastructure for hospitals and healthcare facilities are already substantial and the growth patterns show no signs of slowing; what I’m seeing is that healthcare organizations are outgrowing their investments in data storage capacity in as few as two years.

Frequently, there’s been a bit of a honeymoon period when healthcare organizations first implement Epic, where it’s been OK to over-invest in server, network, and storage infrastructure to ensure the required high availability. But in these tight reimbursement times, the honeymoon comes to an end and budget pressures are causing CIOs to challenge their teams with – how can we deliver the needed performance, high availability, and capacity growth of our Epic systems, with less cost and complexity?

GDD: What are some of the investments that CIOs are looking to make to combat these challenges?

SL: One of the first investments CIOs and CTOs are investigating is investing in flash storage in order to deliver faster and more predictable performance of their EHR software. Flash has quickly become a great fit for the high IOPS, low latency requirements of these clinical databases, and it is compact, lessening the demand on data center space and cooling.

Another strong investment is in technologies like NetApp’s FlexClone® software. FlexClone® enables users to make fast, space-efficient, readable/writable copies of data. This type of innovation is essential when you’re dealing with the volumes of data sets created by EHRs. In one instance a customer needed to make 10 copies of a 10 terabytes (TB) database. Previously with their legacy SAN the customer had to do straight-line replication – consuming 100 TB of disk space – but with FlexClone® they were able to use just 11 TB of space. This is an enormous benefit, not only in terms of cost savings and space savings, but because it also enables the customer to be more agile in how it delivers services, such as analytics, that require these database replications.

GDD: Can you share an example of a healthcare organization that’s meeting these challenges and succeeding in integrating?

SL: One healthcare organization that is a true pioneer is Mercy, based in St. Louis, with 32 hospitals across several states. Mercy stands as a leader not only in adopting EHRs, but also in their success with advanced implementation. Mercy began planning for the future of their patient care IT infrastructure when they invested in a new data center and moved all of their clinical applications to a single, patient-centric EHR by Epic. Since then Mercy has become one of Epic’s largest customers, has commercialized their IT services and offers hosting of Epic to other non-affiliated hospitals nationwide.

It’s been a few years since this deployment and Mercy Technology Services’ (MTS) groundbreaking decision to rely on technology using a FlexPod® infrastructure provided by NetApp, Cisco and VMware. This decision enabled Mercy to consolidate and ease its transition to its new datacenter and minimize any risk of outgrowing its physical infrastructure, while increasing their systems capacity, performance, and agility exponentially.

Since then, MTS has invested in the NetApp clustered Data ONTAP® management platform, accelerated with flash technology, to continue to drive performance efficiencies and reduce the demand on data center space. In fact, they’re running 500 fewer disk drives than with their previous storage vendor, which has reduced rack space requirements and maintenance costs. The savings that Mercy is accruing is in the millions of dollars. The flash-accelerated Clustered Data ONTAP® saved the hospital system $3 million over the previous vendor’s solution. Then, there’s an additional $1 million in OPEX savings created by being able to move away from capacity-based licensing fees.

Infrastructure modernization for healthcare organizations isn’t just about saving money, though, in the end it is about patient outcomes. On a daily basis the clinical analytics backend creates a seamless workflow for medical staff that ensures patients are receiving the best care possible during normal operations and even in the aftermath of a tornado – as Mercy’s hospital in Joplin experienced in 2011.

It’s these kinds of tangible outcomes that make it so exciting to be part of Mercy’s drive to modernization and an honor to be a trusted partner with our healthcare customers in architecting the systems that brings their vision to life.

To learn more about Mercy hospital view the video below or request a meeting with Scott or another NetApp healthcare subject matter expert at HIMSS 2016.