PC Blades Guard Patient Privacy

 
 
By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2004-07-26
 
 
 
Hospitals are notoriously tough environments for desktop PCs and the administrators who manage them, and the Medical Center of Central Georgia is no exception.

Work space is limited in areas such as nurses stations and surgery centers, which can force computers onto the floor and underneath desks, where they are vulnerable to damage from kicks and cleaning solvents.

For administrators, managing these computers can be time-consuming and costly, and security has become a paramount concern because HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, mandates patient privacy standards.

The medical center, known as MCCG, decided to ease these PC problems about 18 months ago through a relatively new technology, PC blades from ClearCube Technology Inc. In a PC blade environment, the monitor, keyboard and mouse remain at the employees desk and are connected to servers that are located in a data center or other secure area. The servers hold the guts of the computer, including the hard drive, processor and memory.

The result is more open areas for the work-space-constrained hospital, easier and cheaper PC management—via ClearCubes Management Suite—and greater security for the computers and the data they hold, said Madison Mock, vice president and CIO of the Macon, Ga., facility. MCCG has put the blades in its nurses stations, emergency rooms and administrative offices. Patient information is stored on computers in a secure area, and employees are unable to download the information to removable media.

Click here for more on powerful new blade servers.

"We dont provide them with any way of copying the information off the PC and removing it from the facility," Mock said. The hospital has had PCs stolen in the past, another threat to patient confidentiality solved by the PC blades, Mock said.

In addition to the security benefits, work spaces at MCCG are less crowded, PC repair time is reduced and IT administrators dont have to travel to an employees desk if there is a problem with the computer, said Mock. While he has yet to conduct a study of time and money savings, Mock said the anecdotal evidence is in.

"We remotely do a lot of management actions that we used to send a technician to the desktop for," Mock said.

The 637-bed facility houses more than 4,000 employees and more than 2,400 PCs, about a third of which are PC blades, with the rest being traditional desktops, mostly from Dell Inc.

MCCG uses ClearCubes C/Port, a device that sits on the desktop and connects the monitor and keyboard to a chassis in a back room via a Category 5 Ethernet cable. C/Port devices cant sit more than 650 feet from the PC blade, and each user has a dedicated blade.

Mock said that as he brings more ClearCube devices into the hospital, he hopes to deploy ClearCubes I/Port device, which uses a fiber-optic connection with no limit on distance. The I/Port also allows for multiple users on a single PC blade.

Blade pioneer ClearCube recently named a new CEO. Click here to read more.

Mock cautioned that businesses looking to go the PC-blade route should keep in mind the amount of heat generated by the rack-mounted blades and plan air-conditioning requirements accordingly.

The PC blade space is relatively small, with ClearCube the only representative until earlier this year, when Hewlett-Packard Co. jumped into the market with its Consolidated Client Infrastructure. Still, ClearCube, whose devices run Intel Corp. Pentium 4 chips, boasts more than 700 customers, including more than two-dozen medical facilities.

For example, Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group is using the technology to implement a secure electronic medical records system that its IT administrators said is easier to manage than traditional PCs. A cost analysis done by the group—a doctors practice in Chicago—indicated that the technology reduced the amount of time spent on upgrading the computers by 57 percent and the amount of IT support time by 76 percent.

"Hospitals are changing dramatically ... to the point where they are getting as digital as they can get," said Carl Boisvert, president and CEO of ClearCube, in Austin, Texas. "Were trying to free up as much [desktop] real estate [in the work environment] as we can so that not only will they have a more attractive hospital, but a more efficient hospital."

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