Object-based storage techniques have achieved wide adoption in the medical field. I've long thought that one of the reasons for this is that IT administrators appreciate the "hands-off" attributes of an object store when it comes to configuration and capacity scaling. When storing fixed content such as medical X-rays, an IT administrator in a hospital doesn't have to configure LUNs, create file systems, or provision new storage capacity when it is added to an existing archive.
What I'm starting to see more of, however, is an increasing number of medical use cases that are satisfied by the use of object metadata.
One use case of particular interest is that of evidence-based medicine. This use case dictates that medical advice and decisions should be augmented by scientific methods. If a doctor recommends a certain course of treatment (or a set of options for treatment), it becomes quite valuable to point to the scientific data that backs up the recommendations. The science can be combined with other factors in order to make a critical decision.
I became aware of evidence-based medicine when reviewing the use of Atmos by a company called CareCore National. The about page for CareCore makes the following statement describing the importance of high-tech in the advancement of evidence-based medicine:
We focus on appropriateness to ensure that health plan members receive the right procedure for their clinical situation. We achieve this by employing state-of-the-art technology and evidence-based criteria.
There are several reasons why Atmos facilitates an evidence-based approach:
- Geography: scan this press release for the phrase "half a petabyte of geographically dispersed data". CareCore National has Atmos deployed in South Carolina and New York. Any "evidence" stored on Atmos must be available in multiple geographies.
- Scale: The 500TB of geographically dispersed data actually represents 15 years worth of unstructured data that is being migrated onto Atmos. Several million documents per day have already been ingested into the deployment.
- Metadata: Evidence has to "stay around". In other words, evidence-based decisions should be reviewable long after they are made. In order to keep documents for an extended (or infinite) length of time, the CareCore National team is making use of metadata to establish retention periods (via the retentionEnable and retentionEnd variables defined in the Atmos Programmer's guide).
One of the reasons I'm tracking this type of use case so closely is the high degree of correlation that this field has with the concept of data lineage. Object meta-data can point to other objects in order to create a "chain of evidence". I don't believe that CareCore National is using metadata in this way, but if I'm reading the tea leaves of the industry correctly I do believe that object lineage (also called provenance) will receive quite a bit of attention going forward.
In fact, this summer I plan on spending some time collaborating with students at Harvard University on the subject of data lineage using object-based techniques. Harvard has already done an extensive amount of research in the field of Provenance-Aware Storage Systems.
The use of objects for provenance has applicability beyond the medical field, especially when it comes to any form of non-repudiation. Given the embrace of object-based storage by the health care industry, however, I think it's a logical place to focus the impending research.