Economic Stimulus & Data Center Construction

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, as it is technically titled, has allocated roughly $19 billion for the deployment of electronic medical records. What exactly does that mean?Today, at most family practices and hospitals, the vast majority of medical records are a combination of paper and film. A patient’s health history and images from X-rays, CT scans and the like are stored in coded folders in a medical records storage room.That won’t be the case much longer.We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift to all-digital storage of patient medical records. A handful of institutions have taken the plunge and are leading the industry in the deployment of all digital systems related to patient care and records.Let me relay a personal story. Recently, a family member needed a CT scan as part of a routine procedure. The scan was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. We arrived promptly, and by 2:35 the procedure was complete. The meeting with the doctor was scheduled for 3:00 PM in an adjacent building. At 3:00, the doctor began the office visit, with the images from the CT scan already on his monitor, ready for evaluation. In less than 30 minutes the images made the trip from the scanning equipment to the data center for storage and then to the doctor for diagnosis. Simply amazing!Imagine in the not-too-distant future that your entire medical history–all of your images—will be sent electronically to any clinician you choose. There are major hurdles to clear—specifically, confidentiality and the ability to retrieve the data reliably. But one of the biggest issues is where this data will be stored. The short answer is: In data centers that currently do not exist.We are predicting a major boom in healthcare-related data center construction over the next five to 10 years not only to accommodate electronic medical records but also to provide support to all the digital tools doctors and hospitals are deploying, such as patient monitoring systems and a digital pharmacy.The story is still evolving, so it’s too early to predict the total impact on data center construction. But it will probably be big.R. Stephen Spinazzola, PE, LEED® AP, is the vice president in charge of the Applied Technology Group at architecture and engineering firm RTKL.