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Transforming Clinical Workflows with Workspace Virtualization

August 14, 2012 - 0 Comments

In my previous blog, I talked about how virtualization is picking up momentum in the healthcare industry and how this is resulting in simplified clinical workflows and providing nurses and physicians with fast access to the applications and information they need to support positive patient outcomes.  In this blog, I would like to touch on one of the key areas where virtualization has made a significant impact – desktop virtualization.  

Hospitals frequently use shared dictation terminals to host their clinical dictation applications. As doctors complete multiple patient rounds, they make their way to one of these dedicated workstations, plug their personal microphone into the workstation, and dictate their notes from their previous rounds.  The delay between completing rounds and dictating patient data is inefficient, but more importantly, it creates the potential for errors.  Access through shared and dedicated workstations also tethers the clinician to specific terminals that can only be used when the doctor is in the clinic. For example, there is no easy way to access clinical reference imaging applications when the doctor is away from the clinic and wants to quickly review images for a specific patient. Instead, the doctor must either call a peer at the hospital to review the images, or incur travel time to go to the hospital. 

Finally, although the shared workstations distributed across the clinics and hospitals are centrally managed, the software operating on each workstation can quickly drift away from its original configuration as users install specific applications not hosted by the data center or use the workstation in other ways that compromise the original “golden image.”  As a result, every workstation and application that a caregiver uses can behave differently. A hospital’s IT group can potentially spend most of its time chasing repetitive workstation issues and errors, as well as managing different instances of almost applications. IT administrators constantly face the challenge of unwanted installations, as well as the incompatibility between images from one shared workstation to the next. Upgrading desktops and applications can be a difficult task, requiring many hours of effort on each workstation. 

This is where desktop virtualization technology can be leveraged to mitigate the above listed problems.  With desktop virtualization, traditional desktop PCs are replaced with virtual machines that are securely hosted in the datacenter, where clinicians can access them remotely from PCs, laptops, thin clients, zero clients, and mobile devices. But creating a seamless, well-balanced virtualization solution from a set of diverse point products can be a complicated process. The best approach is to implement an integrated, service-optimized platform that enables healthcare IT staff to deliver a consistently productive user experience with more cost control of infrastructure and client services, and more protection of patient information.  For example, Cisco and VMware offer combined solutions based on Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI), an open, end-to-end, service optimized infrastructure for workplace virtualization and VMware View™, the desktop virtualization solution. These solutions combine seamlessly to help healthcare provider organizations of all sizes evolve their legacy client computing environments to a more modern, user-centric model that directly impacts patient care.

 Cisco VXI takes an end-to-end architectural approach to desktop virtualization, which addresses additional challenges organizations may face when they use voice and video collaboration applications within virtual desktops.  Traditional approaches to desktop virtualization are constrained by the display protocol technology they use, which is not inherently suited to the handling of delay-sensitive media traffic.  Cisco VXI solves these problems by unifying virtual desktops, voice, and video. Building on Cisco’s collaboration architecture and portfolio, it extends the reach of the virtual desktop to a diverse range of endpoint platforms, including thin and zero clients, smartphones, and tablets. These include innovative user devices offered by Cisco that combine virtual desktops with voice and video capabilities. Unlike today’s desktop-only virtualization solutions, this virtual workspace supports critical collaboration capabilities such as conferencing, messaging, and unified communications clients.  

Several customers have implemented Cisco VXI in their environments, which has resulted in both improved patient care as well as reduced operational expenses.  For example, Metro Health is one such customer who has embraced Cisco VXI to optimize clinical workflow and improve patient outcomes.  I believe that virtualization addresses a very critical role in healthcare and has a long way to go before it gets put into the “old technology” bucket.  

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