Cloud Storage Case Study

Henry Ford Health System's Medical Images are Virtually Picture Perfect Thanks to a New Cloud Storage Solution (Cont'd)

About Henry Ford Health System

Henry Ford Health System Facts

Business Needs

Cost-effective and highly secure off-site image storage

Networking Solution

Cloud-based, centralized repository for medical images provided by AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management

Business Value

Hosted, scalable, pay-as-you-go image storage eliminates up-front capital cost and provides long-term data storage and backup

Industry Focus



The Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute treats more than 114,000 patients each year

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Cardiac Images are a Heartbeat Away

See how Henry Ford Health System puts the cloud to work.

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Henry Ford Health System, one of the country's largest and most comprehensive integrated healthcare systems, is a national leader in clinical care, research and education. The system includes the 1,200-member Henry Ford Medical Group, five hospitals, Health Alliance Plan (a health insurance and wellness company), Henry Ford Physician Network, a 150-site ambulatory network and many other health-related entities throughout southeast Michigan, providing a full continuum of care. In 2010, Henry Ford provided nearly $200 million in uncompensated care. The health system also is a major economic driver in Michigan and employs more than 24,000 people. Henry Ford is a 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient. The health system is led by CEO Nancy Schlichting.


The Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute (HVI) is a large entity with multiple locations, serving tens of thousands of patients each year. Images of patients’ hearts help physicians diagnose conditions, monitor progress and ensure effective treatment. Like many healthcare providers, the HVI has experienced tremendous growth in the number and size of medical image studies which drove the need for additional storage capacity. Large electronic image files require ever more storage space, while federal and state regulations mandate strict image security and extended archive terms—standards the department could not achieve with its onsite storage. The department began looking for a consolidated and expandable storage alternative as well as an enhanced data backup system.


To better manage the growth of medical images without incurring large capital expense, Henry Ford chose AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management. This highly secure, vendor-neutral, cloud-based medical imaging solution utilizes FDA cleared vendor neutral archiving (VNA) software to standardize image formats and synaptic storage to act as a scalable image archive. Images are now stored within the AT&T cloud, providing a highly secure means to access, view and share them. The AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management solution is a cost-efficient, pay-as-you-go model that allows the department to add more images to the cloud as needed, without investing resources in building and maintaining more IT infrastructure. Archiving requirements are easily achieved without taxing IT resources in the process.

At the Heart of Medicine

Henry Ford Health System is a leading healthcare provider, bringing world-class clinical care to patients in southeast Michigan. As part of its commitment to high quality healthcare, Henry Ford conducts industry-advancing research and education. The health system is one of the largest medical education teaching centers in the nation. As a research institution, it is able to integrate findings directly into patient care. Several departments have been recognized for their services and innovation, including Cardiology and Vascular Medicine, Transplant, Orthopedic Surgery and Cancer.

As imaging systems change and require more capacity or adopt different standards, we don’t have to bear any of the costs of upgrades.”

Kevin Yee, Administrator, Cardiology, Henry Ford Health System

Cardiology has been at the forefront of Henry Ford’s services since the beginning. Today, the Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute brings different areas of cardiac care together under one program. “It’s one of the health system’s Centers of Excellence,” said Kevin Yee, Administrator, Cardiology. The department provides services at eight locations and treats more than 114,000 patients annually, providing preventative care, diagnosis and a wide array of treatments for minor to life-threatening conditions. The department performs more than 500 cardiac surgeries per year, including heart transplants.

From diagnosis to treatment, images play a central role in cardiac care. A cardiac image is a multi-frame moving picture of the heart. “It's similar to an X-ray but a lot more intense, because it’s like a little movie,” said Yee. Whether regulating heartbeats or repairing valves, cardiologists conduct many procedures that rely on cardiac images to ensure proper care. Images provide physicians critical and unparalleled information, helping them evaluate cardiac conditions and monitor treatments. The Cardiology department conducts 25,000 image studies per year, and each image is recorded and archived.

Picturing the Problem

As the number of stored images grew, however, the Cardiology department encountered problems with image storage and access. Recorded as large digital files, cardiac images require ample storage space. Earlier storage technologies—videotape and then DVD—were highly manual, costly and quickly outdated. As storage technology evolved to hard drives, the Cardiology department updated its storage system to terabyte drives.

While much improved, the technology still didn’t meet the department’s needs. “Our volume is so high we just eat through terabytes,” said Yee. Its picture archive and communications system (PACS) which stores the cardiac images generates 2,500 to 3,000 images each month and more than half a million have been accumulated over the last seven years. The large size of files also compromised access, as images competed for priority over the Henry Ford internal network with high volumes of other traffic. The department’s IT staff had to perform image back-ups during off-hours and closely monitor hard drive capacity.

Security was another concern. The Cardiology department needed long-term offsite storage to promote image security and regulation compliance. While physicians rely most on recent images, the department stores them for use in comparing a patient’s progress over time, for research studies and to meet regulatory compliance requirements. “We treat images just like any medical record,” said Yee.

Firewalls, electronic sign-ins, automatic time-outs and security parameters are required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In addition, state laws and regulations require institutions to retain images for several years. While the department made back-ups of each image, those backup copies also remained onsite, leaving the whole archive vulnerable to local disaster.

As Cardiology sought a solution, funding was a roadblock. Henry Ford didn’t have the capital budget to build Cardiology’s long-term storage. “If you can only pay for your top three items, number four falls off the list. Chances are that the fourth item is going to be a computer server, instead of something that has direct patient impact,” Yee explained. Since each health system department is responsible for its own needs, Cardiology had to make decisions about its IT infrastructure. Building and managing the necessary long-term image storage would be costly and time-consuming for the department and corporate IT staff. Another option was needed.

Working Together

Cardiology and Henry Ford’s corporate IT approached AT&T about its challenges. “It’s nice to turn an issue over to a company and have it come up with options,” said Yee. “We presented a problem and they gave us a solution”

The department chose to move its long-term image storage to the AT&T cloud utilizing AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management. This turnkey cloud solution brings together vendor neutral archiving software and synaptic storage capabilities, delivered as a cloud-based service from AT&T. Acuo Technologies VNA ensures image file compatibility across modalities and PACS. The Cardiology department’s images as well as the database are stored in the AT&T cloud. The AT&T solution enables vendor-neutral archiving, allowing the department to access and store images created through a variety of imaging programs.

AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management provides the cloud storage components and highly secure image back-up at two geographically dispersed AT&T data centers. Medical staff can access these images over the AT&T network. Since it is a pay-as-you-go model, the department only pays for the space it needs. And as Henry Ford’s needs grow, the solution provides the scalability to easily grow with it. “The move to the cloud was a simple decision and simple implementation,” said Yee.

A Positive Prognosis

The solution has been up and running for more than a year. Off-site image storage promotes business continuity and image security. “While we keep a rolling year of images onsite on local EMC storage, everything is also backed up to the AT&T cloud,” said Yee. After a year, image files are permanently removed from onsite storage, but remain in the cloud through the mandated storage period. Images are encrypted before they are stored to support information privacy. The AT&T data centers are geographically dispersed, to protect the archive in case of disaster.

The cloud solution erases concerns about storage scalability and access. “It’s independent of your size,” Yee said. The department can add space as needed. Another advantage: image back-up and access are no longer influenced by the heavily trafficked HFHS intranet. “We aren’t limited to our own pipeline—we can go to the Internet or our dedicated lines,” said Yee. “AT&T offers lots of different options.”

The cloud enables flexible access across multiple locations. Physicians can tap into cloud-stored images from virtually anywhere—whether onsite, at their private office or at home—with minimal delay. “You type in a case number and the image is there,” said Yee.

AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management saves the Cardiology department both time and money. “I don't have to worry about our department staff or the corporate IT staff making sure the racks are up 24/7,” said Yee. “We don’t have to monitor if a disk is reaching 80% capacity.” Corporate IT can now focus on tasks other than archive upkeep. Since AT&T manages the solution, the Cardiology department saves significant dollars in keeping the technology up-to-date. ”As imaging systems change and require more capacity or adopt different standards, we don’t have to bear any of the costs of upgrades,” Yee explained. AT&T handles that for them.

Paying as You Go

By removing up-front investment, AT&T Medical Imaging and Information Management allows the Cardiology department to make IT improvements without spending capital the health system doesn’t have. “Hospitals have very small capital budgets for things like this,” said Yee. “They're trying to replace equipment in the operating rooms, instead of servers to store images.”

Yet IT updates are also critical. The pay-as-you-go model shifts costs from a capital to an operating expense. The department only pays for the storage it uses. “It saves money for the hospital and health system as a whole,” Yee said.

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