Hospital IT infrastructure such as desktop PC’s, servers and laptops has morphed over the last several years from the old client-server compute model (where most of the clinical applications and data resided on the user’s PC) to a virtualized model (where most, or all, of the applications and data reside in the datacentre). This is where all the computing is done.
As virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI software solutions have evolved and improved over the last several years they have been widely deployed in healthcare systems in the US and Europe. Data and apps are now delivered to the user as a virtual desktop image or streamed as a virtual application – providing access and information when and where it is needed.
Why the change to virtualization?
There are several reasons, driven largely by the quest for better security of patient data (HIPAA privacy). These include:
- The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the US - driving expanded use of electronic medical record systems (EMRs)
- Guidance from EMR vendors to deploy their apps in a virtual model
- The need to support legacy or custom SW apps on older OS versions before the hospital is ready to migrate to a newer OS (spoiler alert - healthcare as an industry is generally slow to adopt modern IT technologies!)
- The promise that VDI would save money by enabling the IT staff to purchase low-end compute devices like thin clients or zero clients with low-end processors instead of the beefier – and costlier PC (spoiler alert – it doesn’t).
- More recently the availability of affordable mobile consumer devices like tablets and smartphones in the market has clinicians demanding support for these consumer devices in their corporate environments (think BYOD).
So now, just when your IT staff feel like they have a handle on meeting clinical workflow needs there are new demographic and business drivers poised to upend those traditional workflows. These drive more collaboration (think voice and video conferencing), enable new virtual care delivery models and for all you CIO’s out there, dramatically impact the existing IT infrastructure needed to deliver care.
So what’s happening?
Consider the aging of population demographics (over 65 years). The large and increasing shortage of healthcare practitioners globally – both general practice and specialty care – has providers scrambling to find new ways to see more patients with the same resources (enter virtual care). There’s also the shift to value based care payment models (vs. fee for service) and the move to patient centred care teams, alongside the explosion in mobile devices and wearables for consumer fitness, health and clinical uses, and the expanding use of telemedicine to deliver virtual care.
Workflow changes are coming
The convergence of these factors is dramatically changing the way healthcare is delivered, where it is delivered, how it is payed for and squarely puts patients into the dual role of both consumer and patient. As healthcare costs steadily increase so does the share that the consumer is paying for those services – as consumers they will demand choice for when and where they get care.
As the global patient population ages we cannot afford to deliver care in the same way – requiring a patient to visit the doctor in person. There simply aren’t enough doctors and nurses out there to see everyone. We have to use available IT technologies to augment the in-person model and deliver some care virtually (recent data suggests that up to 75% of care can be done virtually for common chronic illnesses and delivers better results). The secondary benefits of virtual care include reduced costs of care, streamlined workflows, and focus of clinician time on the most critical patients.*
Coming in the second part of this blog we will be looking at how to deliver a positive user experience through virtualization and explore how other avenues, like Telemedicine, can benefit.