The Terabyte Conjecture

I have been a watcher and participant of computing in general and medical software in particular for many years. A hobby of mine is trying to spot trends before they happen. I called the Gigabit ethernet card trend to some friends a few weeks before John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine did. Not wanting to hide under a bushel basket with my prognostications, I give you The Terabyte Conjecture. The conjecture states that when terabyte disk spaces become easily available to the average user, medical computing will fundamentally change.

With 250 megabyte disk drives available on pricewatch for only $230, the time is not far off when a terabyte (1024 gigabyte) single disk drive will be available and cheap. This has several implications.

One is the ability to hold an entire physicians career of patients on one disk. If a patient requires, on average, 40 megabytes of disk space for each patient then a terabyte disk can hold approximately 26,000 complete patient records.

Training, outcomes and feed back for the clinician could be radically changed by this. If a clinician wanted to review some crucial cases in their training, cases from which they truly learned, they can. Currently that information is usually lost after medical school or residency.

Many types of personal analyses of patient data can occur. If a clinician wanted to know how many cases with a certain diagnosis they had seen, or how many cases they gave a certain medication to over the years and what happened, once again, they can. Many point-of-care outcomes data become possible. All of which hold the possibility of improving something that is frequently lacking in medicine: feedback to the clinician on how well treatments work.

Things could get interesting once terabytes of disk space are easily available to clinicians. Can you think of any more implications for medicine?

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