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It's time to implement virtualization in healthcare, says an analyst

If a hospital or health system hasn't implemented some form of virtualization, they need to start thinking about it, an analyst says. Virtualization in healthcare is not optional.

According to Kate McCarthy, senior analyst who covers health IT at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., everyone in the healthcare industry should be implementing some form of virtualization. The benefits of virtualization in healthcare, she said, range from saving time, to improving clinical workflow, to better security.

McCarthy explains why all healthcare organizations should be implementing some form of virtualization.

What are the benefits of virtualization in healthcare?

Kate McCarthy: In organizations that don't have an advanced virtualization strategy, you can see that physicians actually add time to their day by having to log in to each software package, as opposed to having one login that would kind of give you the keys to whatever you would [have] access to. So it does save some time when you do that.

Most organizations at least have the EMR and basic clinical system set up on any computer-friendly [system], as you just need to put in your user credentials, and you get access to wherever your profile is. The virtualization takes that extra login to different systems out of play, so it's just the one login.
The thing that's nice is not just saving that time ... not just improvement to clinical workflow for the clinicians, but organizations that go that route can more holistically manage security risks. So, if you're giving someone access to your virtualization service, you're not requiring people to log in and log out of multiple systems, and so the risk that someone stays logged in to something that they shouldn't have is lower. And you can set the login to time out across the board, rather than package by package, basically. So there's also a security advantage, not just that improvement to clinical workflow.

What is the state of virtualization in healthcare?

McCarthy: For an organization that is culturally still favoring on-premises technologies, they're going to do less of this stuff. I don't have real numbers here, but I would say most healthcare organizations have a mobile device management strategy, and you could consider that a form of virtualization.

But the industry is starting to go there for a couple of reasons. One, the amount of data they generate is just too big for them to manage storage on their own ... so that's one. Two ... they can't really afford to do it on their own as that data set continues to grow. The security [is beneficial], and then it adds a degree of business agility.

The reality is, healthcare organizations aren't necessarily hiring the top IT talent, but IT companies are. So the fact that you can add to your resources a vendor that brings a different capability set and more skills and experience to the table is a rather substantial value to add in terms of agility.

Should all healthcare organizations implement some kind of virtualization?

McCarthy: I think so. Like I said, whether they're just focusing on mobility, I think it's a must-do. I don't see this as optional. Whether you're going with a truly virtualized platform ... actually depends on the organization. Not everyone's going to want to move to private cloud. You might want to use public clouds for some things.

I don't see [virtualization] as optional.
Kate McCarthysenior analyst at Forrester Research

As you see people start to engage with apps in the space, that changes some of your technological needs, some of your infrastructure needs, and most of what this is about [is] infrastructure. It's not about the system inside or systems of engagement that sit on top of the infrastructure, and so there's more than one way to deploy infrastructure. And, for some organizations, a mix of things is going to work and be more cost-effective. And, for some, an end-to-end [virtualization] platform ... is going to make good sense.
It just depends. Some of it's about size and scale of the organization [and] logistics, like physical location. And if you're talking about an organization that's deployed across the country, that's different than talking about a stand-alone hospital. The infrastructure needs are going to be slightly different, at least for now.

So I think engaging with cloud-based technologies, I think mobile device management, [and], in some degree, virtualization are things organizations have to do in healthcare. But how quickly they move, and whether they need to move to a fully virtualized environment, I think is a little less of an imperative. 

Next Steps

Properly secure virtualized environment to achieve HIPAA compliance

Key factors of implementing healthcare desktop virtualization

Growth of private cloud catalyzed by healthcare virtualization

This was last published in May 2017

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