"Whether it's in medical records or accounting data or even the lab test results, we've really extended our desktop environment external to the organization," says Corn.
The case for virtualizing
Richard Bakalar, MD, chief medical officer at IBM Corp., says the emergence of technologies like picture archiving and communication systems and other data-heavy files, such as those for MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays, has helped proliferate virtualization technology as imaging departments attempt to deal with limited storage space.
"There are a number of options when it comes to dealing with files of that size and with storing those files off-site. If digital imaging technology is used, the images can be transmitted to a Web server that can be accessed by on-site or off-site staff members," says Bakalar. "Or data can be captured from an imaging radiology modality, such as in radiology or pathology, and forwarded to an enterprise server for the same type of access. With this technology, remote workers do not need direct access to the electronic health data, but only access to the images stored on the remote server—which provides secure method of access.
The advantages to this type of virtual storage are many, say its users. The most often cited are financial savings and increased physical space within the hospital. For example, by using the various virtualization technologies staffing can be reduced with a reduction in overhead costs. In addition, the time between the request for the record and its availability is improved, resulting in faster third-party payer reviews and releases for insurance purposes, says Corn. "If reimbursement is received sooner, and claims are submitted more accurately, that's a good thing all the way around."
But is it secure?
Corn said one stumbling block the hospital encountered when moving some of its coding services off-site was how to ensure it was still HIPAA compliant with regard to the patient information it moved from one site to another.
"Extending a desktop outside the four walls of a facility definitely brings up some concerns with regard to printing capabilities—especially when you're talking about printing from a virtual desktop. That was a real showstopper for us at first. After much searching, we finally found a solution that allowed us to send data from a virtual desktop to a remote PC. From there we were able to create a virtual print queue that was able to route back to the Web browser desktop at our local device," says Corn.
Through solutions like VMware virtual desktops, IT administrators can authorize access only to applications and data necessary for each user, and data never resides on the physical device, preventing loss or theft of data. This can be especially useful if a PC or handheld device is lost or stolen, because in that event the hospital loses only the device itself, not the patient information.
"Anybody who gets into virtualization is going to find themselves doing it more and more. I do see more of my colleagues moving into this arena, and I fully expect that as time goes by and the technology becomes trusted, it's going to become the norm rather than the exception. There will always be a place for the full PC, but those are becoming the exception rather than the norm," says Corn.