6 Questions to Avoid a PACS Data Backup Disaster in 2022 | Purview

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If you work in health care, you need to protect the data in your picture archiving and communication system. It's critical to have good data backups because losing protected health information (PHI), including images, could be detrimental to your practice or hospital.

Take a moment to consider what would happen to your practice if your medical imaging data were destroyed. Unfortunately, medical practices have been forced to close entirely due to backup failures.

To help you get started with assessing the data backup process for your picture archiving and communication system (PACS), here are a few questions you should ask about medical imaging data recovery and restoration processes.

1. Who Is Responsible for Backing Up Your Data?

Your medical practice is responsible for backing up its PACs data. However, performing manual backups can be time-consuming, resource-intensive, and expensive, especially with all the tasks you juggle to keep your practice running smoothly. 

Many medical practices and hospitals outsource PACs data storage and backups to third-party technology vendors so they can focus on patient care. That said, even if you rely on a third-party service for managing the data and security for your onsite PACS, it is still ultimately your responsibility to make sure they are adequately backing up your system. That means you need to check to see if your PACS vendor follows data protection practices that ensure you're compliant.

Furthermore, if you work with a third-party PACS vendor, you may want to reconfirm the expectations around who owns data backups. The last thing you want is a misunderstanding where you think that third party is handling backups and they think you are. Talk to your vendor. Confirm that they are backing up your data offsite, or if that is something they expect you to handle. To avoid these types of problems with PACs backups, consider an automated system that saves your data to a separate location or to the cloud without any manual processes.

2. Are the Backups Actually Happening Regularly?

Whether you own a clinical practice or oversee data security for a hospital, when you rely on human processes to ensure you have adequate backups, you will often end up on the receiving end of a few unpleasant surprises.

The issue usually isn’t whether there is a backup, but rather whether the backup is current. Whatever system you use for backing up your data, validate if those backups are occurring on schedule. If you use a vendor, ask them to confirm the dates and times that your most recent backups were taken. Test the system by attempting to recover a study from a certain date to ensure that the information exists and is accessible. Perform these checks regularly.

Data backups are better than no backup at all, but the best backup is a live cloud PACS that can replace your local PACS should a disaster occur. A live cloud backup enables your information to be instantly available should your primary system find itself out of commission.

3. Do You Have Enough Storage for Backup?

You don’t want to get into a situation where backups stop happening because you’ve run out of physical storage space. Make sure you have enough storage capacity to accommodate all of your backups and regularly double-check to confirm. You don't want to end up in a situation where backups haven’t been happening for several months because of a space issue. 

Utilizing a cloud backup platform will ensure you never find yourself in that situation. Plus, with the cloud, you won't need to purchase more hardware every time you need to expand your storage. 

4. Are Your Backups in the Right Format?

Some vendors back up data in a proprietary format, which can cause massive headaches down the road. If the vendor goes out of business, you might not be able to open the backup files if they are in a nonstandard format your devices and applications do not support.

If a PACs vendor is managing your backup processes, always choose one that backs up data in a nonproprietary, standard Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) format.  Make sure you migrate any existing data into a DICOM format that you know will always be accessible.

5. Is Your Backup Media Sustainable?

In addition to considering the file formats used for your backups, you need to think carefully about the physical media you plan to use. Tapes, for instance, can break down in long-term storage. Other types of storage like CDs may require devices to read them which might not be available on the equipment used in the future. You might run into problems if the media you are using becomes obsolete in the future. CDs and DVDs also have a relatively small maximum storage capacity, making them cumbersome and even unusable for backups of large studies, such as with digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT).

Other backup storage options might include the use of a RAID array or an offsite PACS. The issue in these cases is that you will need to continually be conscious of the maintenance and costs associated with managing physical hardware. For instance, hard drives only have an average useful life of four years and will need to be replaced multiple times over the life of the data. 

Just ask yourself, "Do I want to become a data center or focus my efforts on providing quality patient care?"

If you decide you want to focus your efforts on your business and leave data management to someone else, consider incorporating a cloud PACS into your data management process. Using the cloud ensures you don't have to worry about continual hardware purchases, maintenance, data transfer, or technological obsolescence.

6. What Laws Govern Data Retention in Your Jurisdiction?

How long you are legally required to keep your medical imaging studies? This question can be complicated, as every jurisdiction has its own requirements. That said, many regions require you to retain your medical images for five to seven years, with certain cases requiring studies to be kept for over 20 years, such as in the case of minors.

A data loss could have significant legal implications. It is crucial to make sure you have a data backup process that protects you, your doctors, and your specialists. from potential legal ramifications. Storying your data in an offsite location or in the cloud can ensure that it is safe and available over the regulated duration of time. 

Many practices even incorporate cloud vendors just to be their custodian of records for their historical data so they don't have to worry about managing it for regulatory purposes to remain compliant.

Be Smart About Data Protection

It pays to protect the data in your PACS. The practices that lose their data are left footing the bill for expensive PACS data recovery services. In one case, a practice experienced a catastrophic hardware failure that resulted in their PACS completely crashing. In an effort to restore the lost data, they sent their PACS off to an expensive restoration service, paying thousands of dollars only to find that 90 percent of the data came back incomplete or corrupted.

The practice never recovered and ultimately went out of business, a fate that could have been avoided had they been leveraging a cloud-based backup for their file system from the beginning.

Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Take action now to ensure you never need to worry about PACs disaster recovery. Typically, cloud-based PACS software offers a cost-effective, low overhead method of achieving these best practices in backing up your data.

Take the time to assess your image management platform today and decide of PACs software is right for your medical practice. 

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