Munson Medical Center is the largest of eight Munson Healthcare system hospitals located throughout Northern Michigan. The medical center employs more than 3 700 people, including a staff of 420 physicians who represent more than 50 specialty services.
For Munson Medical Center, rapid growth is a sign of strength—but also the cause of a few IT headaches. As the hospital opened new facilities to serve more patients and offer more specialized care, its IT environment became increasingly more complex, with some medical staff relying on dozens of clinical applications on a day-to-day basis. “We kept adding new hardware and software to solve problems here and there, so things got a little haphazard,” says Dale Atkins, technical architect at Munson Medical Center. “The interfaces between our various systems didn’t always match up, and that caused everything to slow down.”
To complicate matters, every application had its own login procedure, often followed by a long delay for startup and loading. “Our clinicians are here to care for patients,” says Atkins. “If they’re running into delays every time they open an application, that’s a poor use of their valuable time—not to mention a bad experience for the patient. Something obviously needed to change.”
After much internal discussion, the Munson IT team determined that desktop virtualization might be the best way to provide faster access to clinical applications such as the Cerner electronic medical record (EMR) suite and Dragon Dictate Medical. The trick was designing a solution that could meet a broad range of clinical use cases—not just for physicians, but for social workers, lab technicians, therapists and more—as securely and reliably as possible. For that, Munson turned to the specialists at Coretek Services. With Coretek Virtual Clinical Workstation framework in place, Munson medical staff could access a virtualized desktop by simply tapping their ID badges on any available desktop, laptop or mobile device, enabling them to roam seamlessly between devices.
This flexible, fully integrated, custom-designed solution incorporates a number of different technologies to meet the unique challenges of the Munson environment. Citrix XenApp handles the delivery of all major clinical applications, in addition to standard business apps such as Microsoft Office. “XenApp is our go-to technology for application deployment,” says Atkins. “When we’re evaluating a new application, the first thing we ask is if we can load it into the Citrix farm.”
In addition, Citrix XenDesktop plays a key role in the Munson testing environment, helping ensure that all workstations will perform as expected. The Citrix NetScaler application delivery controller makes it possible for users to quickly and securely access their virtualized desktops, even if they’re outside the network. AppSense DesktopNow allows the Munson IT team to control each worker’s desktop experience with intelligent group policies that can be applied using carefully defined triggers. A perfect complement to the workspace control features in Citrix XenApp, the AppSense solution helps ensure a consistent experience from one workstation to the next—with no impact on system performance. Finally, with help from Imprivata OneSign Authentication Management technology, workers can sidestep many of the tedious login requirements that were once the source of so much frustration.
With this framework in place, the Munson IT team can give workers more flexibility than ever—including BYOD (bring your own device) capabilities on personal smartphones, tablets and other devices. “The bottom line is that we control the data because we’re running the applications from our datacenter,” says Atkins. “Even if a personal smartphone is used to access our data, nothing can be stored locally on that device. That’s a much more secure way of doing things.”
By drastically reducing application login times for medical staff, Munson has achieved a massive savings in labor costs. “Users today get to their desktops in 30 seconds, and that’s the only time they have to do that during the day,” Atkins said. “They tap their badges to sign into another PC, instead of spending two minutes every time they need to log in.”
Other efficiencies are worth noting, too. For example, nurses used to use a single PC, especially if it was one that had specialized software they needed to complete their rounds. Throughout their shifts, they would migrate back and forth to that workstation whenever they needed to enter data. Now, they can roam from one device to the next, using their employee badges to access their virtual desktops—eliminating the need to keep returning to the same computer again and again. “We used to think of ourselves as suffering from a shortage of PCs, but that no longer seems to be the case,” says Atkins. “People don’t feel so attached to particular machines anymore. Better yet, we’ve been able to reinstate some of our older desktops that were getting too slow to run some of the latest applications. The Citrix client is so light that it can run on just about anything, so those old machines are perfectly usable again.”
Virtual desktops simplify many aspects of IT management at Munson, enabling the organization to extend care far beyond traditional boundaries—an especially important capability as Munson continues to acquire more facilities. “It’s easy for us to make these virtual workstations available within the walls of another facility, even extending our reach to private offices far outside our network,” says Atkins. “Before we had this technology in place, none of that would be possible without a great deal of effort and expense. Now we just give them access to our virtual desktops on day one, and they’re good to go. That’s saving us a lot of time and money.”
In the event of a natural disaster, a hospital is one of the last places that can afford to go offline. Fortunately, the Munson virtual desktop solution helps maintain continuity of care, no matter what. “If we lost an entire datacenter tomorrow—for any reason—we could continue to operate at full capacity through our other datacenter,” says Atkins. “Coretek helped us design the system that way. And as far as I’m concerned, anything we can do to improve the resiliency of our hospitals is a great investment of everyone’s time and effort.”
Next, the Munson IT team plans to further simplify the management of its BYOD environment with help from Citrix XenMobile. “That will be our go-to solution for managing what data can be accessed by personal smartphones and tablets,” says Atkins. “Citrix is already playing a really central role in our environment, so it made sense to choose another Citrix solution for mobile device management. And the great thing is that I’m not worried about it. I just know it’ll work.”
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