In healthcare, maintaining a compliant desktop environment plays a critical role in supporting clinical staff that is becoming increasingly reliant on electronic resources.
For some IT departments, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) — a solution that separates the desktop environment from physical devices by centrally hosting resources in the data center — has become the obvious strategy. From an IT standpoint, there are many draws, including security, process efficiency, and even cost control.
“Security is usually the first reason why hospital CIOs look at VDI,” says Karen Gondoly, COO of Leostream. “Reducing the total cost of the IT infrastructure is usually second on the priority list.”
The Benefits of VDI in Healthcare
With VDI, the patient information does not leave the data center. Because the information is in a virtual environment, it’s never stored on an endpoint device. This helps to minimize the risk of security breaches and the concern of personal health data getting into the wrong hands.
Like most organizations, hospitals and medical groups are on the lookout for ways to reduce costs. In some long-term scenarios, VDI has proven to minimize hardware investments and the cost of maintaining the desktop environment for an overall improved ROI. Take the example of this busy New York hospital that was able to save $471,000 and 1,600 hours of downtime per year.
For IT administrators, the advantages of VDI have been well documented. Centrally hosting data in the datacenter can make it easier for IT to maintain and standardize the delivery of applications. For large healthcare systems this can be a huge time saver, especially for those performing routine tasks like patching operating systems or rolling out updates.
The Role of a Connection Broker in Healthcare VDI
But, what about the physicians? The success of any virtual desktop project hinges on the quality of the end-user’s desktop experience. Are doctors demanding access to certain medical applications on their iPhones? What about a physician assistant who logs in up to 70 times a day on various computers – how can VDI help these users?
That’s where connection broker technology can bring an advantage. A connection broker lies at the heart of any virtual desktop deployment, and is the key component for assigning resources to end users and controlling the end-user experience. In a healthcare VDI implementation, it plays a powerful role in when, where, and how healthcare applications and information get delivered and can be an ally in creating a secure desktop environment.
Considerations for an Optimal End-User Experience
When you’re looking at ways to improve the physician experience with virtualization, there are several areas of interest, such as login speeds, accessibility across devices, and support for complex visualization.
“A connection broker can greatly improve login and session switching speeds,” comments Gondoly. “You can trim session switching times from 40 seconds to under five, which is huge in high-traffic login environments.”
By integrating multi-factor authentication systems into the login process, a connection broker can add security without hindering staff productivity. “Smart cards, biometrics, and security cards are often employed,” comments Gondoly. Physicians can access their desktops from any policy-sanctioned location using a PIN or a smart card. “In terms of mobility and anywhere accessibility, this plays to the physician’s advantage. Take the example of a nurse that can access her desktop from inside the nursing station or by the patient’s bedside with just the tap of a proximity card.”
Some hospitals prefer a hands-free login experience to access desktops in the datacenter. “After a doctor’s initial logon of the day, her desktop sessions can be disconnected and reconnected in a matter of seconds. The role of the connection broker is to ensure that when she walks away from the client device her desktop session locks and when she moves to a new room, her desktop session follows her. In this scenario, there’s no boot up, no login, no fishing for smart cards, and no need to de-glove for a fingerprint scan,” explains Gondoly.
Another area of interest is the rendering of graphics in the data center. Displaying high-resolution images and 3D graphics in a virtual environment can be a challenge. With support for high-performance display protocols, connection broker technology can ensure the delivery of healthcare applications that demand complex visualization, such as medical imaging. By supporting the necessary protocol, the connection broker ensures that doctors have the performance he or she needs.
As more hospitals forge ahead with virtual desktop initiatives, keeping the end-user’s perspective top of mind is key. While VDI can certainly bring benefits to the overall IT strategy, the connection broker plays a vital role in how clinical staff interacts with the system.