Virtual Desktops - The Right Medicine for Healthcare IT

by Mathew Hegarty  -- More and more healthcare organizations are turning to virtual desktops to address their challenges with the management, security and cost of their organizations end-point devices, namely workstations and laptops. This has long been a complicated subject for healthcare executives due to the complexities within in the healthcare environment. The fact is, end-point devices are the one piece of the technology chain not physically placed in a secured environment.  Servers and switches are hosted in secured and environmentally controlled Data Centers and IDF closets, but laptops and workstations do their work in the Emergency Room, admitting office, or on one of the Nurses mobile carts. This introduces not only additional support costs and challenges but security concerns as well.

Even for the IT administrators managing a traditional technology infrastructure consisting of servers, desktops and laptops creates serious challenges. Ensuring software is consistently updated, hardware is running optimally and data is secure and safely backed-up is a time-intensive monotonous effort that puts IT departments in reaction mode rather than focused on proactive system maintenance and innovation. 

The economics of Healthcare IT are simple. The cost of maintaining IT infrastructure is becoming untenable given the complexity of new systems; the need for flexible and scalable deployments are a requirement for all new projects with executive buy-in. Add to that increasing healthcare costs relative to inflation and newfound political pressure to keep costs down while maintaining the quality of the care being provided. One thing is certain, healthcare organizations are challenged as never before to do more with less.

Enter virtual desktops to save the day - and the bottom line - for healthcare. For the uninitiated, virtual desktops represent a philosophical shift in how end-point devices are deployed and supported across an organization. The traditional approach of managing hardware, software and data at the individual machine level is extremely costly, typically in an uncontrolled environment, and near impossible to keep consistent.

The simple fact is virtual desktop technology allows Healthcare IT departments to deploy desktops, laptops and portable devices at a lower cost and from a controlled, secure data center. By running the software on a centralized server and having users access only necessary applications, the resources required to support the network are minimized while network uptime can actually be increased; because we are ìpushingî the applications and configurations from a central point, consistency is maintained across the environment.

This isn't exactly a new concept.  IBM had seen the value of running centralized servers with terminals back in the late 1950's with the advent of the Mainframe.    The concept was simple: centralize the key resources in a secured, controlled data center and use lower cost ìdumbî terminals at each desk to communicate with the mainframe.  Well, whatís old is new again.  The main difference between the Mainframes of old and todays virtual desktops are the familiar graphical interface of Microsoft Windows.

Hospitals and clinics can now make technology work for them, not the other way around. Virtual desktops loaded on thin clients, old workstations or laptops mounted on rolling carts have transformed the way physicians and caregivers treat patients. Instant access to patient records and integrated prescription management means healthcare workers now have real-time information at the point of care, which translates into faster, more effective care for patients.

Compliance with HIPAA is made even easier by virtual desktop technology. By accessing applications and data stored on a centralized server, the risk of losing sensitive patient data through the theft of hardware is nearly eliminated. What's more, once data is entered by a caregiver the device used does not retain the patient data. In short, applications and data stored on servers in a data center are subject to the highest level of control and security possible.

From my perspective as an experienced Systems Integrator, a virtual desktop solution makes sense for just about every healthcare organization.  From small physician practices up to the largest hospital groups, the fundamental benefits are the same. Translation? Gone are the days of your IT staff having to troubleshoot individual desktops because of a problem with an application. Gone too is the need for updates and patches for individual applications and printers on every physical desktop. Application performance is raised to a higher level because the computing environment and configuration is controlled in the data center.

What's our prognosis on the future of healthcare IT? Virtual desktop technology brings too many benefits to healthcare at a time when cost containment and data control are paramount. The transformation of healthcare technology is happening now and will never be the same. Because the most efficient delivery of healthcare information always wins in the end, we're seeing the age of virtual desktops take form.


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Virtualization , Virtual Desktops , HIPAA , Healthcare IT , Compliance


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