Healthcare industry embracing the digital workspace

VMware says the digital workplace, or digital workspace, is making a big impact on the healthcare sector.

The terms ‘digital workplace’ and ‘digital workspace’ might appear synonymous, but Sumit Dhawan, senior VP and GM of desktop products at VMware, makes a very clear distinction. Digital workplace, he says is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that a person’s workplace is no longer a fixed location, but whatever physical location they are working, thanks to digital technology.

Digital workspace, on the other hand, is the umbrella term for all the technologies that make the digital workplace a reality.

“Digital workspace is the technology that enables people to access their applications and information from devices and locations of their choice with consumer grade simplicity and enterprise grade security,” he told Computerworld.

Enterprise grade security, he added, was not to suggest that security in the consumer world is poor, rather it is“the necessity for authentication, approvals, authorisation and management beyond what consumer grade security requires.”

A digital workspace, Dhawan says, includes “virtualizing the traditional application and desktops that are the key applications running most businesses today, plus the new mobile and cloud-centric applications.”

VMware’s realisation of this concept is Workspace One, released earlier this year. “It leverages our mobile technologies of Airwatch and builds on that an identity centric workspace that enables users to self-provision from a single application store that includes access to all types of applications – legacy applications as well as mobile applications,” Dhawan said.

Virtual desktops are key

Central to the creation of a digital workspace is desktop virtualization, or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – where applications traditionally running on a desktop computer are centrally hosted and delivered to a display devices that could be a PC, dumb terminal or a mobile device.

VMware has been in the VDI business — for which it uses the term ‘End User Computing’ — for close to 10 years and sees a particular need for digital workspace in the healthcare industry, according to Tisa Murdock, global director of End User Computing industry solutions at VMware.

She told Computerworld: “Seven or eight years go we look a look at the health market and we saw clinicians struggling with the move to electronic medical records. When hospitals moved to digital content a lot of them doubled or tripled the number of desktops and put a lot of strain on IT that was already understaffed. And they were having to provide 24 x 7 access to this new digitised content.”

She said VMware had partnered with third party software companies to tailor its End User Computing product, Horizon View for the healthcare market with a product called VMware Point of Care, but was now looking at how to cater for the changing needs of the healthcare market.

“We still see the need to provide continuous access to information but it is now more about the clinician using the right device and the right application at the right time,” Murdock said. “This is causing a lot of disruption. They are worried about letting mobile devices onto their networks.

“We are also seeing the move to patient-centric care. How to improve patient satisfaction, how to engage them in their care. And if we do that we see much better outcomes, because the patient understands what is happening and why they should follow their care plans. Also we are seeing trends around remote patient monitoring.”

She added that changing to commercial models of healthcare delivery were also putting demands on IT. “We were with a customer [in Australia] yesterday that is building a primary care medical centre in a box: Putting in all the IT, all the equipment and dropping it into, say, a mining town,” Murdock said.

“In the US we have seen a large healthcare provider trying to enter a market by standing up a 10 bed hospital in that market, and there are retail stores that will have a small clinic inside.”

She added: “Once you start centralising resources and providing them out as a service it gives you a huge amount of flexibility and control from an IT standpoint. So we aim to make it drop-dead easy for the clinician to get access from whatever device they want, to the application they need to do their job, in a simple and easy-to-use catalogue.”

One Australian hospital is already well progressed on this journey to creating digital workspaces for all its staff, and looking to the next stage: extending the reach of its digital workspace to its patients.

Sydney hospital’s vision for digital workspace

The Sydney Adventist Hospital on Sydney’s North Shore with 550 beds, 2,300 staff, 500 volunteers and 1,000 medical practitioners is the largest private hospital in NSW and also runs the largest and busiest private hospital emergency department in the state.

Operations and infrastructure manager, Information Services, Barbara McKenzie, told Computerworld that the hospital had been running its electronic medical records (EMR) system using VMware Horizon for several years. Initially services had been delivered to specialised trolley-mounted mobile workstations, but now, she said it was much more cost effective to put in large numbers of fixed ‘dumb’ terminals.

“I can put in 10 terminals for the price of one powered workstation on wheels, and the backend contains no more,” McKenzie said. “So what we did was to put in fixed devices with easy reach throughout the hospital. For example, if you walk into our new 40 bed wards you will find 44 fixed terminals and 40 of those are dumb terminals. There is one PC at each nursing station for business continuity. Patient data gets dumped to those regularly.”

However she envisages much of the usage shifting from these terminals to mobile devices and says the hospital has already started on this journey. “I see function-specific apps for the workforce and the full user interface to the EMR for more data intensive operations, and to see the bigger picture.”

The hospital has developed a native mobile app for our doctors, now in beta, that enables them to look up details on their own patients, to access the EMR, see notes, add notes, issue instructions, take photos. McKenzie said: “We are getting beaten up by the doctors every day as to when they can get it.”

She added: “The next app we will be doing is for nurses to enable them to take patient observations and enter them to the app which will upload them into the EMR. We have another app for the porters who take people around the hospital, via orders placed through the system. That has just gone live.”

McKenzie points out that doctors are the key to the commercial success of a private hospital: they choose the hospitals at which they will treat their patients, and says their uptake of the technology has been encouraging.

“We have around 500 doctors who bring patients to the hospital and over a four week period in March just under 500 had logged in and interacted with the system. My lead engineer says there is no window when he can get in and do maintenance. Even at 1am there is a doctor logged in. It has absolutely changed the way doctors to their work.”

She plans next to extend functionality to the patients. “The information that has to be pulled together for their care is pretty complex, but there is huge scope to differentiate the organisation through patient engagement and make their experience less stressful.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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