First there was the migration to the cloud, now it's a push for virtualization. Gone (or soon to be gone) are the days where every nurse, doctor, and healthcare professional is chained to a desktop PC upon which they rely for access to their software and information.
Virtualization and the cloud are not necessarily the same thing. The latter is a remote data warehouse that stores information. The former entails running an application on one computer through a browser on another machine, which could be hundreds of miles away. Imagine accessing a bulky and power-intensive application that normally requires a PC on a tablet. This is just one of many elements of flexibility that virtualization can provide.
Joe Brown, president of Accelera Solutions, shares four reasons for going virtual.
1. Personalized healthcare applications. Having a strong EMR is an important part of running a practice, but the burdens of cost and maintenance may be too much for smaller providers to bear. Brown says that, in an effort to make smaller doctors more "sticky" to their larger presence, hospitals are virtualizing their EMRs and hosting them on a private server for smaller practices to have access to. "They give them virtual use of their EHR system," says Brown. "These doctor groups work very seamlessly with the hospital system. They can order all kinds of things straight from the hospital through a very secure private cloud environment. In the past it would have been at past very cumbersome."
2. Patients outreach. Brown recalls a commercial he saw recently where a patient "made an appointment with a doctor, checked a prescription, viewed an X-ray, and said, 'I did this all from my smartphone.'" Brown sees this level of connectivity as a crucial element to healthcare, if a provider wants to stay competitive. "That's the way consumers want to interact with their providers. Consumerization is driving healthcare systems to adopt the cloud faster than they'd like to," he says. Brown says that physicians aren't immune from this demand either, noting that "as doctors get younger in our generational shift, we're going to see the physician desire to interact with mobile devices more and more."
3. Flexibility. Virtualization effectively enables physicians to take their practices anywhere, Brown says. "You can take a heavy EHR app that wouldn't run on an iPad and virtualize it. I can give any physician access to very sophisticated clinical applications on the road." Naturally, this flexibility can prove immensely beneficial to both practitioner and patient alike. "As a result of [accessing a virtualized application] they may be able to make a diagnosis from an airport," he says. On the other side, virtalization also means that a patient's input can be a click away. "If I can bank online I should be able to do my healthcare online," says Brown. Providing patients with access to virtualized clinical applications means that physicians can collaborate with those they are treating all the time – not just when they come in for an appointment. Additionally, it enhances the control a patient can have over his or her care. "From a patient perspective, I want to be able to go to a central spot and have access to all of my records, or request a refill on a prescription."
4. Security. What list of benefits for a healthcare IT system would be complete without a security advantage? Virtualization can beef up the protection of records and data too. "It provides an abstraction layer between user and application," says Brown. Typically a user's data is stored on the computer in the application, at least for the duration of the session of use. When a client accesses a virtualized application, however, "None of the data from the application ever resides on the end point device which the person is accessing it from." Additionally, "There's no chance of data loss if the device is lost," because the data never was on the device- it was only viewing it on the virtual copy it was accessing," he says. "Virtualization can also harden devices against viruses. "If there's malicious code on the end device, it can't make its way in to the application because it's virtualized."