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CIO looks at future of healthcare virtualization, its security benefits

One CIO weighs in on a newer concept: healthcare virtualization. He discusses how he thinks this technology will evolve, as well as the security benefits it offers.

Virtualization is still relatively new to the healthcare industry, said Matthew Kull, senior vice president and CIO at Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas. Based on his experience implementing virtualization technology in his own healthcare organization, Kull discussed where he sees healthcare virtualization going in the future, as well as some of the benefits to security this technology provides.

Is healthcare virtualization new to the industry?

Matthew Kull, senior vice president and CIO, Parkland Health and Hospital SystemMatthew Kull

Matthew Kull: It's a newer concept to the industry. It's certainly something that we're starting to have more discussions about. The whole software-defined data center is a newer construct. The next logical step is not only virtualization but more of an add-to-service model, because you can start to more seamlessly integrate hybrid cloud approaches for your data center, you can start to more seamlessly integrate third-party and external service providers, and making them appear to be more seamless and more unified in the execution of those types of capabilities.
 
I think that over time, with this architectural approach we're going to start to see virtualization allow for a logical single data center with a physical multi-pronged federated back office. We won't treat data centers as primary or secondary and we won't certainly identify data centers as on premises or off premises. I believe we will start to see data centers through this virtualization become less dependent on specific structure and simply a logical representation of where you store your information and where all of your compute resides. After that logical presentation, there will be many sources of different types, not dependent on if it's an on-premises solution or a cloud solution or a hybrid approach or an off-site data center. We'll start to not differentiate those on a logical layer and we'll have a more consolidated, federated back office, and I think that this type of virtualization is really what's going to get us there.

What does the next level of healthcare virtualization look like to you, and how will it be different from how virtualization is being used in healthcare today?

Kull: In my opinion, the logical next step is actually virtualizing the logical environment, allowing us to segment and create a smaller subset of our environment through virtualization software, as opposed to hard networking equipment. Being able to carve out our clinical environments from nonclinical environments, certainly, has an opportunity to reduce risk. If we can segment environments where we store PHI from environments where we don't, we can allow our users a little more freedom without as much restriction in kind of the nonclinical segment, which, hopefully, will reduce our potential risk for PHI loss.

I think from a management perspective ... we're starting to see a change in the vectors of people who are trying to breach healthcare institutions, where they're starting to focus more on a new vector such as medical devices. And so, being able to segment medical devices outside of our clinical data environments, being able to segment our data stores and our data warehouses from potential breach through other areas of our environment, is certainly where we're putting our focus now that we've created what we believe to be our perfection of our desktop environment.
 
Does healthcare virtualization make segmentation easier or more secure? How is it different from how healthcare organizations are segmenting their networks today?
 
Kull: The result is the same, but there's certainly a lower-cost approach through the software approach, as opposed to doing it on a hardware basis. The other thing is, the ability to change quickly and reconfigure quickly is much more available on the software side than the hardware side. It also allows a more simplistic management approach, by segmenting the network and ensuring that you're only allowing connectivity from places that you expect it to come from to your data asset, especially where there is patient protected information. This is probably our next level of risk protection. And it's really coming down to, when you look at it virtually, lowering the overall cost of implementing that kind of model.

Next Steps

Key factors of implementing healthcare desktop virtualization

Growth of private cloud catalyzed by healthcare virtualization

Properly secure virtualized environment to achieve HIPAA compliance

This was last published in April 2017

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