Guest Column | March 29, 2017

Improving Healthcare Providers' Virtualization Experience Via Thin Clients

HITO Simon Clephan, IGEL

By Simon Clephan, Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Alliances, IGEL

Today’s healthcare professionals want the same easy mobility and secure computing environment workers in other industries want. However, faced with making critical decisions on a daily basis, healthcare professionals also need to know when they boot up a screen, regardless of the device, the desktop will provide the consistent information and applications they need to serve their patients.

This also applies to the increased usage of mobile devices. According to published reports, 80 percent of physicians now use mobile devices for such tasks as transferring patient records, further highlighting the need for data security as ransomware attacks are a growing concern.

A mobile workforce needs a highly secure digital workspace, whether they are in a company’s headquarters, main hospital or clinic facility, remote site or a home office. Healthcare organizations must alleviate privacy and compliance concerns such as HIPAA by providing security controls that fight ransomware and protect sensitive patient data, giving the end-user a reliable, consistent computing experience.

With so many permutations of devices and screens existing in any one healthcare organization, security-sensitive IT teams are looking for solutions that beef up security controls at the endpoint while supporting, rather than thwarting, the desire of professional staff to have device freedom as they move about locations.

As an example, UNC Health Care was looking to embark on a major virtualization initiative with Citrix as the platform and, at the same time, wanted to provide its physicians with freedom to access the Epic Systems’ Electronic Medical Records (EMR) while roaming between workstations during the workday. In preparing for a system-wide Citrix VDI roll-out — for an estimated total 15,000 desktops — the IT team decided to look for a thin client solution that could support the VDI deployment and provide a consistent end-user experience across the healthcare system’s hospital campuses and facilities located throughout North Carolina. The solution had to support UNC hospitals and its provider network, the clinical programs of the UNC School of Medicine, and nine affiliate hospitals and hospital systems.

“Some of our hospitals already had thin client solutions in place, so we began our search by attending Citrix Synergy where we were able to learn more about the various options available to us through Citrix’s ecosystem partners,” says James Cole, Technical Architect, UNC Health Care. As a result of Citrix Synergy, UNC Health Care was able to identify a software-driven, thin client solution that could quickly convert existing thin clients, desktops, and endpoints into a Linux OS-powered thin client which saved the organization a significant sum in capital expenditures, according to Cole.

Advanced thin client technology can be a viable option for healthcare organizations looking to fulfill the dual objectives of moving to a virtualized, mobile environment while wanting to preserve some of the legacy equipment for cost efficiency. Following are some considerations in supporting a virtualized, mobile workforce:            

  1. Simplicity: IT wants solutions that cut staff time wherever possible. Instead of taking, for example, 30 minutes to create a virtual image on each system, advanced conversion software can cut that time by two-thirds.
  2. Mobile Security: Since healthcare professionals are moving constantly between locations, IT has to provide security controls that support this mobility yet allow fast access for healthcare staff. For example, IT should be able to configure a roaming mode which allows physicians and healthcare staff to simply tap their badge to securely login to their desktop from any roaming endpoint. Additionally, they should provide a kiosk mode which stays logged in, but runs programs under the user’s context. Users are required to type in their password only twice a day; the rest of the time they simply tap the employee badge on the card reader to login automatically.
  3. Anti-Ransomware Features: If there’s one item causing IT stress it is the risk of cyber-attacks. Thin client software should be able to provide better security by locking down the desktop and reducing the threat of hacking, phishing, and spamming. One example is certificate-based communication between management servers and thin clients. This protects against DoS attacks and man-in-the-middle attacks.
  4. Efficient Management: In converting what could be thousands of devices, IT needs unified endpoint management software that enables organizations to reduce the amount of time usually associated with managing so many remote endpoints.
  5. Preservation of Legacy Investment: Where possible, IT is looking for lower cost alternatives to replacing desktops. Technology solutions which enable IT to convert existing assets into advanced thin clients helps healthcare organizations reduce desktop replacement costs.

As more healthcare organizations fully embrace virtualization and seek to provide physicians and staff the mobile desktop experience they must have to serve patients, advanced thin client technology presents a solution. A consistent user experience, delivered via thin client software, helps healthcare professionals work in a secure environment, with the freedom they need to make critical care decisions.

About The Author
Simon Clephan is Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Alliances at IGEL, a provider of endpoint management software for the secure enterprise. He more than 30 years of experience in the enterprise software industry, including solutions for healthcare, and has been in the Endpoint Management marketspace for more than 16 years.