Virtual Desktops Make Inroads at Hospitals
Desktop virtualization, a hot trend in computing, is increasingly being embraced in hospital settings, mostly to reduce IT costs associated with desktop maintenance.
In virtualized environments, all applications are hosted on a central server rather than on individual devices. Malware—or malicious software—worries are greatly reduced, along with anti-malware license fees. IT support costs are slashed. In some cases, savings on traditional Windows desktop costs can approach $1,500 per year per PC.
"The biggest driver for us was significantly lower desktop support costs," says Michael Krouse, chief information officer of Ohio Health, an eight-hospital system based in Columbus. "The vast majority of support calls were from desktop users.
User productivity is also enhanced. Users can seamlessly move their virtual desktop from location to location as workflow requires without needing to re-log in and reopen applications.
Krouse says that virtualization does not have a material impact on the EMR or general clinical applications. Desktop virtualization also simplifies HIPAA compliance. Systemwide policies can be established to prevent unauthorized movement of protected health information, says Brian Duckering, a senior marketing manager for Symantec, a software company that focuses on antivirus programs.
Still, perils exist. Desktop virtualization can provide a false sense of security, depending on deployment philosophy. Managed properly, desktop virtualization can ensure that no unauthorized software is installed on the desktop and that all desktop software is at current patch levels.
"If the virtual desktop is not managed, obsolete and unauthorized software will persist, providing vulnerabilities to desktop data," says Anup Ghosh, chief scientist, Center for Secure Information Systems, George Mason University.
Culture shock is another issue and stakeholder consensus is crucial.
"Hospital CEOs need to ensure caregivers have a clear understanding of what virtualization allows and prevents, how productivity is improved, and how the solution benefits the enterprise," says Jeff Eagan, desktop virtualization solution director at Computer Sciences Corp.
Virtualization essentially removes the "personal" from personal computing. Users are no longer permitted to load personal applications like TurboTax on to hospital desktops.
"If an organization allowed this in the past, the user perception will be that you're taking something away, which amounts to a massive culture change," Krouse says, adding that users must be shown the benefits of the change. "Desktop problems can now be resolved in 30 seconds, instead of the call being triaged and the issue not fixed for two hours."
This article first appeared in the October 2009 issue of H&HN magazine.