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Computer Hardware Choices: Not One Size Fits All

October 27, 2011
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Hardware choices and the importance of workflow

I recently had an opportunity it to speak with Chuck Podesta, CIO of Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, Vt., on the topic of computer hardware choices that hospital CIOs are making. He believes that hardware choices are not a one-size-fits all situation. At bottom, both hardware and software choices are workflow issues, he says.

The good news is that both hardware and software vendors are making more options available to physicians and nurses that enable more flexibility and productivity for daily activities. On the hardware side, he sees a rise in the use of mobile devices in its various forms, which he says will continue to increase. “The iPad will be a game-changer,” he says. On the software side, he notes that vendors have been developing products to mesh with clinician workflows. Fletcher Allen, for example, is about to roll out Canto, a read-only EMR for the iPad, that was recently launched by Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems Corp. (The company has also developed a counterpart version for the iPhone called Haiku.)

Another significant trend—not hardware per se, but one that affects hardware choices—is the virtual desktop, which he says offers the potential to lower costs and improve security. The virtual desktop is important because it allows the use of inexpensive thin clients in the nursing areas that can be locked down and managed from the servers. And while the use of thin clients does require more servers, it is a savings from an IS helpdesk perspective, because it is much easier to work on servers than on PCs, he says.

The importance of the virtual desktop will increase as mobile devices catch on. One downside of mobile devices is their mobility: they are vulnerable to theft or loss. Keeping data such as PHI at the server level mitigates the risk of data loss, Podesta says. Fletcher Allen is testing the concept by applying the virtual desktop to iPads that are being used by physicians and nurses in the ED and other areas.

To be sure, CIOs have more choices than ever when it comes to both hardware and software choices. At a time of tight budgets and increasing demand for IT investments, it’s more important than ever for CIOs to make wise decisions. More on computer hardware trends in healthcare will appear in the December issue of Healthcare Informatics.

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