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Virtual Desktops: Benefits in Security, Simplicity

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Real benefits can be seen in security, simplicity, and support staffing.

The IT department at Pacific Hospital of Long Beach in California faced an enormous challenge: updating 200 workstations throughout the 184-licensed-bed hospital in about a month with a reduced IT staff. Not only did staff members have to replace the computers, but they also had to individually update all of the applications to run an upgraded version of their electronic medical record.

The hospital was already delivering some computer applications through a virtual thin-client model, so it decided to partner with Hewlett-Packard and Citrix Systems to extend that solution. The thin-client model uses a computer that does not have a hard drive or internal moving parts, and does not store any information on the computer itself. Instead it connects directly to a server that the IT staff can update and manage from a central location. It supports applications ranging from Microsoft Office to the hospital’s human resources software to its picture-archiving and communications system.

Matt Winn, Pacific Hospital’s IT director, says the challenge with thin-client solutions in healthcare is testing all of the point-of-care devices. "We worked with end users, whether it was nursing or registration, to make sure we tested all of those applications to ensure that they would work in a Citrix environment because not all do," he says. "It’s not an end all solution for everything."

But the strategy did reduce the amount of time that Pacific Hospital’s IT department spent on support calls. The hospital has about one to two computers for every four to five nurses, and on some units there are 30 nurses, says Winn. "We would constantly encounter a support nightmare where nurses were sharing or trying to share log-on accounts or downloading something from the Internet or downloading applications that they shouldn’t be," he says. With the thin-client model, the hospital can restrict Internet access, and IT staff can remotely lock down a computer if an end user downloads an unauthorized game or application.

Security is one of main reasons that healthcare organizations are interested in virtual desktops. With HIPAA and other regulatory requirements, hospitals are looking for ways to secure patient data, because the last thing they want is the unauthorized release of patient health information to the public, says Jeff Eagan, solution director for desktop virtualization at Falls Church, VA-based CSC Global Business Solutions.

Another factor helping spur the growth of virtualized desktops in healthcare is that it enables nurses or physicians the ability to access their desktop with the applications and data they need throughout the hospital, says Eagan.

The cost savings are a motivating factor, as well. Pacific Hospital expects to yield a 22% cost savings in its first year, after it tallies the capital outlays, technology staff requirements, operations, cost of downtime with traditional desktops, and power usage.

"We have increased the amount of end users and haven’t had to increase staff to support them because it is more centralized," Winn says.

Carrie Vaughan

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