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Seattle Children's Hospital finds best medicine in virtual desktops

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman April 17, 2014
A VDI rollout at one of the US’s leading centres for paediatric medicine and research means that clinical staff can maximize the time they spend with sick children and their families.

Seattle Children's Hospital, Giraffe Entrance, May 31, 2010.
Whether they’re dealing with their child’s first asthma attack or struggling to come to terms with a more traumatic and life-changing diagnosis, the one thing that parents of sick children need from medical staff is speedy reassurance that their child is in safe hands.

If, at the start of a medical consultation, a doctor takes forever to log in to a computer in order to access their child’s medical record, parental confidence might be severely dented. At best, it might add to the considerable stress that they’re already under.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, that’s not a situation that CIO Wes Wright is prepared to tolerate. Using desktop virtualization technology from Citrix and zero-client devices from Wyse, he’s been able to shave valuable minutes off the time it takes staff to log into clinical applications, freeing them up to spend more quality time with patients and their families.

Before this virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) project got underway, says Wright, the log-in process took, on average, around two and a half minutes, “and longer on a bad day.”

Today, an initial login at the start of a staff member’s working day takes just 43 seconds. Subsequent logins to different devices, as they move from clinic to clinic, room to room and patient to patient now take between 13 and 15 seconds. “We’ve calculated we’ve saved clinical staff around 45 minutes per day, just in login times,” says Wright.

Good medicine

Seattle Children’s Hospital is one of the US’s leading centres for paediatric medicine and serves the largest region of any in the country, covering the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. It’s also home to a world-class research institute that sits among the top five paediatric medical research centres, in terms of National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding. In all, the hospital employs a workforce of 5,570.

“When a member of staff logs in, the VDI serves up their specific desktop,” Wright explains. “If they’re a clinician, for example, they’ll see the clinical desktop, which has a range of healthcare applications. If they’re a non-clinical worker, mostly support staff, they get a non-clinical desktop, which is mostly productivity apps and our enterprise resource planning system.”

Wes Wright

While faster login times and increased clinician and patient satisfaction have been the most important benefit of introducing VDI, says Wright, there have been other important knock-on benefits, not least a vast reduction in energy costs from getting rid of PCs, which run at around 70 watts of power, and replacing them with zero-client desktops, which run at just seven watts.

“Our calculations suggest a saving of around $100 per year, per zero-client device - so, over the 5,500 zero-client device we now have in place, that’s a saving of around half a million dollars per year in energy costs alone,” he says.

There’s also a huge saving in IT department time and effort, since all maintenance of these devices can be carried out from Seattle Children’s data centre - an important gain when you consider that the organization is spread across a central campus in Seattle and ten other locations, some of them out-of-state.

And the VDI project has opened the doors for a ‘bring your own device’ policy at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Anyone can bring into work any piece of equipment they choose, whether they’re clinicians, researchers or support staff. If they need access to patient information, they have to access it using a virtual desktop, so the two operating systems never interact, they can’t download data out of a medical record onto a device and what I’ve got is a very controllable environment.”

The VDI technology - which uses Citrix’s Xenapp server and XenDesktop - was initially piloted at the hospital’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Centre, some ten miles out of the city, before being rolled out in the Emergency Department at the main campus in Seattle. Introducing new technology in such a high-pace, critical environment was a risk, Wright concedes, “but it’s where fast log-in times were needed most,” he says.

From there, the roll-out across the organisation was driven by staff demand: “Staff who had seen VDI at work in other departments were knocking on my door, asking why they didn’t have it yet. Now, it’s become the norm in the hospital environment. I think if I tried to take it away from them, I’d have a riot on my hands,” says Wright.

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