Virtualization and Cloud Technologies: A Prescription for Healthcare

How can virtualized desktops and thin clients help with digital records management and healthcare industry compliance and privacy requirements? Let’s find out how Rhode Island-based CharterCARE Health Partners has embraced private cloud and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to support its distributed, 579-bed community-based health system. The organization operates the Roger Williams Medical Center, Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, and several other caregiver facilities.

We’ll hear how the tag team of private cloud and VDI has provided better data management, security, reliability and regulatory auditing capabilities. The successful infrastructure modernization effort has also helped CharterCARE move to electronic health records and has helped improve their processes for clinicians.

Here to dig into more detail on the CharterCARE IT infrastructure improvement story is Andy Fuss, director of technology and engineering at CharterCARE Health Partners. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Listen to the podcast (19:14 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Dana Gardner: I’m interested why data management has been a primary driver for you as you’ve looked to adopt both the private cloud and VDI. What is it about the data equation that’s made this look like a good solution for you?

Andy Fuss: We need our data to be accessible everywhere, at every time, no matter what provider is at what facility. Even from an engineering and technology standpoint, no matter what system analyst, what network engineer may sit down wherever they are to troubleshoot an issue, we need that common set of tools.

We need the common repository of information for a caregiver. That would be the electronic medical information. It could be the x-rays, the slides, the CT scans, or the results that were dictated by a radiologist. Whatever it might be, that information needs to be available in a flexible manner and delivered directly to the deskside experience.

Now, if that’s a desktop, it needs to be on a regular PC, but if we’re talking about a tablet, we need to accommodate the tablets that people bring in and have come into the facility and are now actively being used, or zero client technology.

We have all the different technologies and pieces. We’re trying to promote these pieces to be used and trying to be flexible with accommodating them and getting people to the information that they need so they can take care of the firs patient care t priority, which really is.

Gardner: Tell me about the extent of your distributed campus and environment. Not only are you dealing with many different types of data and many different endpoints, but you’re also distributing this across a multitude of different environments.

Fuss: We have two main acute hospitals. We have a nursing home, a cancer center, outpatient care offices, and several different offices all around the community. So the data truly needs to not be resident in one spot.

We also needed to have a secured disaster recovery (DR) facility, so that if anything were to happen to our primary data center that’s on one of the campuses, we could flex seamlessly over.

So building a cloud for us made total sense. That cloud hovers between one of two data centers. One is at one of the acute facilities, and then 100 miles away in another state, we have another data center. Our cloud roams between the two, and we have data flowing from each area.

So the connection really is no longer about where it’s physically located by any restriction. It’s more of just gaining access to the Internet and being able to make connections. Where you’re accessing that data from or where you’re using it is seamless to the end user and provides a solid customer experience.

There are a lot of people who can embrace different types of clouds. You’ve got hybrid clouds, private clouds, public clouds, all with different offerings. For us it made sense to do a private cloud. For others, it may make sense to do hybrid type cloud.

As we move toward the future, I can see that we might be able to offload some of our services toward the public cloud. As we increase the size of some of our data and we have patient care cut over to the side, there might be some other data that does not follow the same guidelines. We can put that into a secure public cloud and attach everything.

VMware is coming out with those tools and using those tools to make that kind of continuation project possible to look at. We’re very excited about some of the initiatives that we’ve seen at VMworld — the vCloud Director, with security, the different layers built into that that could make some of the public cloud usable for us for specific applications.

Gardner: Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if private cloud to you means better security.

Fuss: Oh, it does, most definitely. I’m no longer worried about the endpoint device walking away from us. I’m not worried about theft of an individual device, because the device has nothing more on it than some connectors to get somewhere.

When we were first embracing zero client technology in a lot of places, we did some studies. We talked to some different people who had already embraced it. One particular hospital I spoke to said they had on video someone stealing a zero client device, perhaps thinking that they had stolen some great new utility tool for home, a new PC. They were all excited.

They also have them on video, bringing it back the next morning, because they couldn’t do anything with it when they got to their house. Using cloud, using the technologies that ride in the cloud, like VMware View and access to the data through VMware View, really helps to lock things down and it helps to prevent things.

In the past, somebody could have taken a PC, and let’s say that PC could have had metadata on it or could have had some files on it that were saved in someway. It was comical to hear that story from another person who was in a similar situation as us, where there was no data loss or data leakage, even if that device had never come back. So the cloud really has tightened things down for us.

One of the primary concerns for our electronic medical records is that it’s patient data, financial data, and so needs to be PCI-, and HIPAA-compliant. All the different compliance standards that we need to abide by are all satisfied with the ways that these machines are locked down, by the way the cloud is moving, and where we allow it to move to.

Gardner: How do you view private cloud and VDI — separate, distinct, together? What’s the relationship?

Fuss: They’re definitely together. They have to be together. In my opinion, it’s what makes sense. We want to see the data tight. We want to see the integration tight. We can have a cloud where the data roams back and forth, but the connection into the cloud actually uses that data.

As I sit here on a device, a personal device at the office that is connected to my virtual desktop instance, this device doesn’t even have to be on my network. I’m utilizing a public network that we have here at the hospital system and I’ve connected into my virtual desktop. I have full accessibility. I’ll flip over here in a few minutes when I go into another meeting. I’ll bring my iPad with me, another personal device, and I’ll be connected right to that same virtual desktop.

So the cloud has allowed me, with View, to seamlessly move between all these different devices. I no longer am tied to something. I’m no longer tied to a specific physical location, a physical anything. I really am completely mobile. I can work anywhere at any time and have that same common set of tools.

It doesn’t matter if I’m working out of the DR site. I should no longer call it “disaster recovery.” I should call it our “second data center” because even though it really is 100 miles away, I can still sit there and work all day long just like I’m anywhere else. That ability is really the value that using a cloud and using View gives you.

I want a physician in his office, out on the road or wherever they might be, at home, in a practice have access to that same data and have a similar look and feel every time they connect from whatever device. That’s what these solutions that we’ve opted for have provided for us. …

We can already see the expansion, the use of that technology in different areas. We have some physicians with iPads working throughout the facility, visiting the patient’s bedsides, looking at their charts, all that kind of flex room is great.

I’ve seen it in our administrative areas, our human resource officer using iPad remotely. We’ve had our Chief Information Officer using an iPad, using a PC at home, and connecting through the View client to her machine.

We’ve gotten support not just from forcing the technology out there, but by people asking for the technology. That’s how you can tell you have a good product. People asking, “Can I be moved to this new product, because the flexibility of my supervisor, director, whoever is using is what I need.”

If the director calls saying, “I need this employee to have this flexibility,” you know you’ve hit a home run with the technology. I haven’t had anybody call asking for another PC at another location for the same person to work. I have people calling saying, “I really need to get them onto this technology as soon as it’s possible, because it’s made this employee so efficient. I need to do that for everybody else.”

Dana Gardner

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: VMware sponsored this podcast.

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