VDI: the sensible option for addressing healthcare IT challenges in Europe

Increasing use of desktop virtualisation as health trusts across Europe embrace technology

David Angwin

In this article, David Angwin, marketing director of cloud client computing for Dell EMEA, explains the benefits of using solutions such as desktop virtualisation in the healthcare sector

Healthcare organisations across Europe are going through fundamental, technology-enabled changes in how care is delivered and the ways in which their clinicians interact with working environments.

One of the reasons our healthcare customers look to VDI is because it enhances mobility, which is essential for today’s physicians

In recent years, government-led initiatives have been a key driver of this progress across some of Europe’s largest economies. These include the Digital Hospital Program in France, aimed at modernising hospital information systems; and regional and national IT initiatives in the UK and Germany which have focused on centralising patient data and improving IT security.

These initiatives were designed to develop more-effective systems that help health professionals deliver better care. Hospital staff are using mobile applications to become more efficient and to improve outcomes, along with digital technologies to support clinical decisions and streamline hospital operations. The methods are simplifying processes and reducing manual workloads across the continent.

With this proliferation of technology, a secure and flexible underlying IT infrastructure is required to ensure hospital staff remain productive and to remove the security risks associated with mobile devices in order to keep sensitive patient data secure. Many hospitals across Europe are using desktop virtualisation (VDI) to provide this infrastructure.

VDI enables healthcare professionals to access new or existing desktop applications which they need, from any device and from any location.

Cyber security has become a bigger issue for healthcare organisations across Europe, and governments expect new IT systems to keep patient data contained

Through a centralised datacenter, virtualised desktops work across a range of devices, offering flexible computing, single sign on (SSO) capabilities, and secure access to patient data at the point of care, making hospitals more connected and enabling healthcare practitioners to access critical applications whether they are at their patients’ bedsides, at a clinic, or in a doctor's office.

This type of infrastructure is more popular with IT managers. VDI solutions can be set up on premise, in a facility, or delivered remotely through the cloud to deliver applications and patient data, giving IT teams greater flexibility in the deployment and management of the infrastructure. This simplified end-user environment enables healthcare organisations to better manage costs, reduce complexity and mitigate security and deployment risks.

Meeting user demand

One of the reasons our healthcare customers look to VDI is because it enhances mobility, which is essential for today’s physicians. Research by Kantar has shown that more than half – 51% - of physicians use tablets for professional purposes and 74% use smartphones at work.

Clinicians and staff want to choose the device that best suits their individual work and lifestyles, and VDI enables them to easily switch between them. The establishment of a virtualised desktop infrastructure enables users not only to access their desktops on mobile devices, but also to work seamlessly on fixed terminals as they move around a hospital, and to access critical applications on tablet and monitor displays for presentations and analysis. Furthermore, each user can access the applications they need, regardless of where they are within a facility, all without having to remember multiple passwords, as access to each terminal is enabled through the use of identity cards.

Protecting patient data

The second benefit of VDI is security. Patient data is at the top of the healthcare agenda, as shown by the latest NHS leak of HIV patient information, and European Data Protection Regulation is set to impose significant fines on those who misuse or do not sufficiently protect patient files going forward.

VDI allows customised healthcare applications to be securely deployed and managed on a single desktop infrastructure, virtualised for use in multiple locations, which can be managed easily by a single IT team

The proliferation of devices and the internet of things have been key drivers behind these measures. Cyber security has become a bigger issue for healthcare organisations across Europe, and governments expect new IT systems to keep patient data contained.

The use of virtualisation technologies will help healthcare organisations adhere to these measures by offering IT staff centralised control of end-user data that is stored and managed in the data centre, enabling integrated security and providing straightforward oversight of patient records. With hard disk storage significantly reduced, the risk of loss or theft of data is much lower, while privacy is enhanced.

Furthermore, doctors and nurses can sign on to any workstation and access their desktop functionality through VDI, which means that they are not required to carry multiple devices around the workplace, minimising the risk of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.

Functionality is also a critical element of VDI. With users given a choice of devices, they are more likely to work on those that are most suitable for given tasks.

IT management and support will be a key challenge and cost for the healthcare sector in the future, as teams battle to deploy and support different applications for each user across an increasing number of devices

When incorporating thin clients, VDI offers optimal functionality to healthcare practitioners who regularly require mouse, keyboard and screen functionality for quickly writing patient reports or using Windows-based applications.

Thin clients also provide faster, more-reliable and more-secure access to patients' medical information and other critical files, along with centralised access to data in real time, improving clinical workflow and facilitating rapid access to accurate information. In the long-term, patient experience can be improved as a result of this time saving.

Simplifying IT management

IT management and support will be a key challenge and cost for the healthcare sector in the future, as teams battle to deploy and support different applications for each user across an increasing number of devices.

For this reason, the remote management capabilities enabled by VDI cannot be overlooked. Gartner reports that ’70% of IT support for infrastructure services can be performed from a remote location, reducing labour costs by 10-50%, resulting in a 3-30% overall net saving, excluding one-time transition charges.’

VDI allows customised healthcare applications to be securely deployed and managed on a single desktop infrastructure, virtualised for use in multiple locations, which can be managed easily by a single IT team. This enables the team, and therefore the organisation, to benefit significantly from the resulting decrease in spend and increase in efficiency.

As governments across Europe continue to enforce the reform of healthcare IT, VDI can act as a powerful tool in improving patient, user and IT management experience across the increasing number of devices used in clinical processes

A recent example of this solution working in practice is at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, where staff require rapid access to electronic patient records, but previously found their ageing PCs to be sluggish and in need of a revamp. Rather than replacing them, moving to Dell Workspace provided the ability to access the system over a virtual desktop infrastructure, enabling easier management, faster user login and rapid user switching.

As governments across Europe continue to enforce the reform of healthcare IT, VDI can act as a powerful tool in improving patient, user and IT management experience across the increasing number of devices used in clinical processes.

With improved efficiency, mobility and security, VDI enables healthcare practitioners to work in a secure mobile clinical environment, which will lead to better patient care. This can only be healthy for the sector going forward.

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