Virtualization Eases Support Of EMRs

A multi-specialty physician practice with 75 clinicians is running its e-medical records system as virtual applications via the cloud.
The rollout and support of electronic medical records and other clinical systems isn't cheap or easy for most physician practices. However, some medical groups are finding they can stretch their limited IT resources further by virtualizing their applications and moving them onto the cloud.

Pentucket Medical Associates, a multi-specialty practice with five out-patient facilities in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts, is saving time and money by having recently transitioned clinical systems to a software-as-a-service environment hosted by Global Data Systems. GDS has also virtualized Pentucket's electronic medical record applications using software from vendor Install Free.

With the GDS hosted environment, new Pentucket applications are rolled out via InstallFree Bridge to a virtual desktop on the domain, said Shane Gunn, VP of GDS healthcare services. When Pentucket users log in to the domain, they receive fully deployed virtual applications and configurations, which remain constant no matter where remote access originates, Gunn said.

Deployments and updates can be made offline, and become active at the next log on, said Gunn. Users can move between different versions of operating systems, and each client can continue to keep its own version of applications, he said. "InstallFree allows older applications to run" within an environment, he explained.

The InstallFree configuration allows Pentucket's clinicians to securely access Pentucket's various GE Centricity EMR applications remotely from their desktop computers, laptops, or tablets whenever they're logged into the domain, Gunn said. But beyond that, the virtualization makes it easier for Pentucket to add new devices to its environment, as well as to manage and support the applications.

Over the last four year since Pentucket first rolled out its GE Centricity EMR software, the medical practice has more than doubled from 30 clinicians to 75, said Pentucket CIO Ruth Pothier.

In the past, every time Pentucket Medical Associates added new users and devices, such as laptops, "it would take several hours to configure them, plus hours of down time while we did that," said Pothier.

"Now it takes about a half hour," she said. It's not only saving time, the move is saving money.

"It typically costs about $160 an hour for a support person. Reducing that support time from four hours to a half-hour saves a lot of support time and resources," she said.

"We are fortunate -- we have physicians who use our EMR well. They want to interface with local hospitals, [and] the ability to read images from afar," said Pothier. Disruptions aren't appreciated by Pentucket's users.

"We offer a lot of IT solutions that need a lot of support," she said. The move to the hosted virtualized environment makes it easier to free up Pentucket's internal four-member IT to provide user support, without having to worry about the resources required when new applications or devices are rolled out to the users, she said.

"We've gone through the pain and agony of new technology rollouts," she said. "This makes it easier."

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).