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As the IT architect for Munson Healthcare, Dale Atkins manages the digital desktops of 3,750 clinical users at the nonprofit healthcare system in Traverse City, Mich.
Using a single sign-on system from Imprivata Inc., a Massachusetts-based IT privacy company, Atkins said he has saved thousands of hours for his physicians, nurses and other clinicians by eliminating time-consuming multiple sign-ons. For nurses who sometimes log on as many as a couple of dozen times a day, that's a lot of time.
"It easily saves us 35 to 40 minutes [min] per day per user," Atkins said. "That's a huge cost savings for us."
As do many healthcare installations, Munson relies on desktop virtualization. Imprivata is built on desktop virtualization, which is being adopted widely in healthcare IT and other industries that have large enterprise systems with many end users.
Users work at thin client terminals attached to small boxes with limited individual processing capability. Instead of their own desktop PCs or laptops, each day they receive "published," or virtual, desktops interfaces from the healthcare system's servers.
Then Munson employees sign on by swiping an Imprivata badge or card over card readers connected to the terminals.
That swipe automatically puts in the passwords for all the applications for which a user is authorized, from electronic health records (in this case, Cerner Corp.'s Millennium) to office productivity applications.
Among the advantages of the virtual desktop-Imprivata combination is that it beefs up the all-important security of patient medical information by protecting terminals from unauthorized viewing by other users and by preventing users from inadvertently downloading malware that could lead to privacy breaches. "You can't download anything. It would not work," Atkins said.
The system is also convenient for employees. "The published desktop follows them around," Atkins said.
From Imprivata's perspective, the system's selling points for customers -- who have to not only shell out for the company's card or fingerprint biometric sign-on system but also convert from fleets of PCs to thin or zero client terminals -- go beyond security and convenience.
The company also touts the energy savings involved: Because thin and zero client terminals consume less power than PCs, customers save on energy costs. They can also save on maintenance because IT specialists don't have to fix and upgrade balky PCs; most problems can be handled from the main servers.
As for security and reliability, "PCs are extremely vulnerable," said David Ting, Imprivata president and CTO. "They walk out the door; they gather dust, and disk drives break."
"Virtualization lets you run desktop PCs on servers," Ting said. "Security is a good word, but users really care about speed and access too."
As for the Imprivata single sign-on, it makes logging off easier as well, Ting said. In hospital settings, where doctors and nurses roam from room to room and hall to hall, logging in and out as they go, that's important, he said.
"A lot of time is spent to go back to the same work state," he said.
Meanwhile, Imprivata has released its fourth annual survey of desktop virtualization trends in healthcare. The survey of 330 healthcare respondents forecasts healthcare adoption of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to reach 65% by 2016, a 25% growth rate from 2014.
Also, 84% of healthcare users using VDI plan to integrate single sign-on by 2016, with time savings estimated at 19 min per day per user, according to the survey.
The most commonly cited barrier to adoption was cost (48%).
"The trends are good," Ting said. "It's an investment. If you don't get it within the next three or four years, you'll be behind the curve."
An International Data Corp. virtualization software vendor study in 2013 found that virtualization is growing dynamically. "The rise of mobile and cloud applications is subverting existing IT management paradigms. Holistically being able to manage desktop, mobile and cloud applications from a single management console is quickly becoming a must-have for next-generation IT," Brett Waldman, research manager for client virtualization software at IDC, said in a release accompanying the report.
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