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Endpoint Virtualization and the Healthcare Industry

November 25, 2008

Summary

Learn how centralized data management and endpoint virtualization are helping physicians and clinicians, as well as IT staff, work more productively and securely.
It’s one of the more vexing challenges in healthcare.
Every day, doctors, nurses, case managers, and other hospital workers need quick and reliable access to key applications. And because they’re continually on the move, they need to be able to go to any workstation or kiosk to call up a particular application. But all too often they can’t get access because of problems inherent in the delivery of specific and proprietary healthcare applications and complexities managing the client system environment.
What if applications, and even the entire desktop, were able to follow these roaming users and be accessed from virtually any device? What if there was a much easier way for users to work in an increasingly digital environment, where Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) and Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are becoming commonplace?
This article looks at how centralized data management and endpoint virtualization can help physicians and clinicians, as well as IT staff, work more productively and securely.

The frustration factor

The access challenges that physicians and clinicians routinely face today can be daunting, to say the least.
  • Password problems: It’s easy to forget which passwords to use for which applications, and when to reset passwords. Calling the helpdesk for assistance can take up valuable time.
  • Application access and printing confusion: When using another workstation, or returning to the kiosk they were using earlier in the day, doctors and other users have to find the right application and navigate back to the place where they left off. This can be frustrating and time-consuming, particularly if the user moved to a different workstation that has a different user interface. Printing can also turn into a hassle for roaming users. They may not know which printer is used by a particular workstation. Or a printer may not be located nearby.
  • Remote access issues: When working remotely, users may not be able to reliably connect to the network and access the applications they need. And when they connect, the desktop may be different from what it is at the hospital. Even more frustrating, remote connections are often unreliable, dropping users in mid-session.
  • Inability to use computing resources: Some guest users, such as candy stripers and vendors, can’t use computing resources for basic functions because they aren’t authorized for the corporate network.

The IT challenges

Now let’s look at access from the point of view of the IT department. Since hospitals never close, IT has to ensure continual, reliable access every hour of every day. And there’s no shortage of challenges in making that happen:
  • Desktop management: Clinicians often share workstations in a kiosk-like fashion, and it’s not unusual for a single workstation to be used by dozens of people in a single day. Many times, hospital workers also need to access applications and patient data from different client devices. To enable device-to-device roaming and kiosk capabilities, IT must apply the highest-common denominator to every workstation. This means setting up and maintaining each workstation with all of the applications users might need, and making sure each workstation has the computing power to handle all of these applications. That’s not an efficient use of resources.
  • An inundated help desk: When a user doesn’t know how to find the local printer, it means another call to the help desk. And when users can’t remember their passwords or haven’t reset them, the help desk has to walk them through the process. To save time, people end up using other workers’ passwords instead of contacting the helpdesk. Shared passwords not only violate HIPAA mandates, they also hinder identity management initiatives.
  • Remote access issues: Enabling remote access is a must for most healthcare facilities, but addressing VPN connectivity issues can become a time-consuming chore for the IT staff.

The promise of centralized management

Symantec believes that many of these challenges can be addressed by taking a centralized approach to the management of data, which makes information more easily accessible to both healthcare providers and IT personnel. With a centralized management approach, care providers in different geographical locations can access the same applications and information simultaneously no matter where they are. This increases efficiency and productivity, while enabling providers to respond more quickly and improve quality of care.
By employing centralized management, hospitals can reduce IT costs and response times while increasing user satisfaction and security. Password management is easier, and password security is actually increased, for example, as is reporting and auditing for regulatory compliance issues. Access to patient information does not rely on the availability of a single workstation. When a particular endpoint becomes unavailable, the information remains accessible elsewhere.
Centralization also strengthens data security procedures for healthcare providers and networks. Hospitals typically use an open architecture in which users who are not employed by the hospital are constantly entering and leaving the environment. Although each endpoint may have security measures installed, the responsibility for updating and maintaining those measures today lies with the owner of the endpoint. Central management of data and applications strengthens this model by ensuring protection regardless of any security measures implemented on endpoints.

The promise of endpoint virtualization

There is an additional technology solution that can streamline the way healthcare organizations provide access to key applications: endpoint virtualization. While many organizations are already familiar with server virtualization, endpoint virtualization may be a new concept for them.
Endpoint virtualization in this context refers to the ability to provide a portable computing experience across a broad range of computing environments. The promise of endpoint virtualization lies in improving the end-user experience while helping to lower the cost of managing endpoint devices.
For clinicians, endpoint virtualization offers access to the user’s personalized workspace (desktop and applications) from any device (networked or remote) via a single authentication method. If physicians are able to authenticate to a network with a single sign on, rather than authenticating from each endpoint they use throughout the day, they can access applications from any networked or remote device.
Endpoint virtualization supports a clinical work environment by allowing the shared use of devices through rapid desktop switching and the ability to roam from one device to another while maintaining the active state of the desktop. Users can print locally even when roaming, eliminating the hassle of tracking down printers. And for physicians working remotely, their personalized workspace looks and acts exactly as it does when they’re in the hospital.
For IT professionals, endpoint virtualization enables IT to centrally manage all users, workstations, and applications, simplifying IT efforts to provision applications and updates to users. By intelligently allocating computing resources based on user class profiles, IT can optimize these resources. IT staff no longer need to apply the “highest common denominator” to every workstation.
In addition, by centralizing control of password management and enabling single sign on, IT can more quickly and easily resolve password issues when they arise.
The bottom line: IT can reduce costs and response times while maintaining a high level of user satisfaction and security.

Symantec and endpoint virtualization

Thanks to its extensive portfolio for managing virtual workspaces and providing a portable computing experience, Symantec can help organizations better secure and manage their endpoint data and applications. Symantec’s strategy is to help enable a truly dynamic endpoint, where applications and information are delivered to any computing environment in a seamless manner.
As hospitals continue to automate and add applications, providing convenient access to these applications for physicians and clinicians while maintaining security and patient data privacy will prove to be a challenge. But increasingly, hospitals will discover that centralized data management and endpoint virtualization can help address these issues.

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