The Role of Virtual Desktops in Healthcare

Dana TeeBy Dana Tee, Content Specialist, Leostream
Twitter: @Leostream

The other day, I was sitting in my doctor’s office as she pulled up my patient profile on her computer and started typing away. It seemed like a normal visit – and in most ways it was. However, a few things were missing. There was not a single folder, pen, pencil, or piece of paper to be seen – the sterile room was completely digitized. As I checked out at the front desk, I was given information to register online for my personal health record. It appears that my local doctor has reached electronic medical record nirvana.

Most patients would have gone about their day without giving it a second thought, but, as someone who works in IT, it really got my wheels turning. The transformation of this medical practice from a paper environment to a digital one is the perfect example of technology aligning with clear strategic initiatives. In healthcare, organizations are challenged to find the right blend of interoperability, data accessibility, and consumer engagement, all while keeping patient information secured.

Displaying my patient record on a laptop sounds simple enough, but there’s no doubt that if you pull back the proverbial curtain, there is more than meets the eye. When, where, and how healthcare applications and information get delivered can put a major strain on IT departments – putting the entire desktop environment in the center of the action. Some medical practices and many large hospital systems have turned to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or cloud solutions as a way to centrally host resources. Centrally hosting data in the data center, keeps the information off of physical endpoints like laptops. This approach can make it easier for IT to maintain and standardize the delivery of applications and data at scale.

How Healthcare IT is using VDI to its Advantage

Major draws for VDI in healthcare include security, mobility and cost control. Personal health information getting into the wrong hands can have serious consequences for hospitals. With VDI, the patient data never leaves the data center. Since the information is in a virtual environment, it’s never stored on an endpoint device, helping to minimize the risk of security breaches.

The increasing demands for mobile accessibility and bring-your-own-device are also drivers in healthcare VDI projects. Just like everyone else, doctors want to be mobile, and they need access to clinical data and applications at their fingertips. A VDI solution can support a number of mobile devices and remote workstations from virtually any location.

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 reduce hardware investments and the cost to maintain desktop environments 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.

Making Virtual Desktops a Reality with Connection Broker Technology

At the heart of any desktop virtualization initiative is a connection broker, which is a powerful ally in the quest to stay secure and to keep both IT and clinical staff as productive as possible. Connection broker technology ties all the data center bits together, and controls who can access what and how. Although virtualization secures data by keeping it off endpoints, the connection broker provides the management console to oversee it all, giving IT the ability to monitor activity.

From an IT perspective, a connection broker is critical in aiding compliance initiatives, as it provides full logs and audit reports about who accessed HIPAA-governed data and when. A connection broker is also key for rolling out complex clinical workflows that require multiple layers of authentication, including passwords and smart cards.

For end users, such as doctors and administrative staff, a connection broker can take the pain out of the desktop login experience. By improving session switching speeds and smart-card authentication, a connection broker offers access to the right applications and data at the point of care. For example, a nurse can log in to her desktop from any policy-sanctioned location using a PIN or a smart card. This allows her to access her virtual desktop from inside the nursing station or by the patient’s bedside.

As healthcare organizations push for more electronic initiatives, maintaining a compliant desktop infrastructure plays a crucial role in the overall IT strategy. Virtualized environments support the move from a paper system to a digital one by providing fast and reliable connections, easing systems management, and protecting confidential information by keeping it off of end-user terminals.

About the Author: Dana is a content specialist at Leostream, a driver in the evolving desktop virtualization space and writes widely on the topics of technology and health IT. Her work has been featured in publications such as Becker’s Hospital Review,, and Kevin MD. Previously, as the Marketing Manager for DICOM Grid, Dana’s marketing program was named the 2015 Best Content Marketing Program from the Health IT Marketing Community.