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Virtualization In Healthcare: To Be Or Not To Be?

August 1, 2012
at 6:37 pm PST

Virtualization continues to be a hot topic in the healthcare industry with many industry pundits calling this technology a potential game-changer.  There seems to be a lot of excitement around how this technology can help the healthcare industry in terms of cost optimization and efficiencies. Some of the key virtualization drivers include the move towards electronic medical records (EMR) deployment, support for increasing number of mobile devices, and providing secure access to patient-sensitive data to authorized individuals (HIPAA compliance).  

I do believe that healthcare organizations have much to gain by embracing virtualization in their networks, data centers, and end-user workspaces, but they must have complete confidence that benefits can be achieved without compromising core requirements for clinicians, administrators, and IT.  In order to build this confidence, one must clearly articulate the “incremental” return on investment for adopting virtualization technology.  I have seen and heard several bold claims as to how virtualization is going to transform the healthcare industry but yet those very claims are light on how it’s truly going to help healthcare organizations be “incrementally” better.  I keep emphasizing “incremental” because that is the true value-add customers are looking for in order to justify their investments.  In today’s macro environment, everyone is being tasked to do more with less. 

In most healthcare environments, clinical and administrative applications are client-server based.  Often a nurse or a doctor who has to enter data into an application ―for instance, an EMR application― does so from a shared workstation. This task starts with the user identifying himself/herself through a secure login process that can take anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes. After entering the data, the user often immediately logs out, leaving the station available for the next user.  In an average healthcare setting, clinicians will repetitively access such workstations for data entry, sometimes as often as 50 to 70 times per shift.  The cumulative productivity loss can add up to about an hour (60 times, with a 1-minute login procedure each time). The nurse or the doctor could use this time more productively by meeting with patients or other clinicians and increasing the number of patients they can see.  This is just one example where virtualization could provide the “incremental” value-add by significantly cutting the productivity loss, which has a direct positive impact on patient experience. 

Healthcare industry is at an interesting cross-road due to the confluence of virtualization and cloud computing.  Several healthcare organizations are viewing virtualization as a stepping stone in their cloud journey. Increasing number of healthcare applications are being used in a virtualized environment – either at server level or desktop/mobile level.  This is resulting in simplified clinical workflows and providing nurses and physicians with fast access to the applications and information they need, wherever they are, to support positive patient outcomes.  Over the subsequent blogs, I will articulate how Cisco virtualization platform is providing the “incremental” value-add that gives the healthcare organizations the complete confidence they need to embrace this capability.  Until then, stay tuned.

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