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Patient Care Enhanced by Linux Solution


Even as health care costs grow, hospitals and health care centers are constantly looking for ways to cut operating expenses. The cynical would say this is just to increase their profit margins, but that is not always the case. Some hospitals need to cut back  to avoid layoffs, or closing a cutting-edge facility, or just survive in a world where patients who have insurance can often pick and choose which hospital they are admitted, and the patients who don't may not be able to foot their own medical bills in a timely manner.

On top of all of this is the overriding desire to keep patients comfortable and happy with their hospital experience. This may sound like so much marketing, but as someone who has volunteered in a few hospitals, I will tell you that the more relaxed a patient is the more receptive they are to the care they need.

In any hospital, being relaxed is a difficult proposition, so medical centers try to handle the little things for patients and visitors. So, there's higher-end food facilities (St. Vincents in Indianapolis makes a great ham, asparagus, and swiss panini), valet parking, and (more frequently), Internet access for patients and their guests.

But running IT in a hospital of any size is a hard enough proposition. If computers don't work, health care can be delayed, and people can die. So how to maintain and handle computers for patient use--use that automatically points those computers at the security nightmare known as the Internet?

One hospital, I was pleased to read, is using Linux and thin-client technology to provide the cure.

The Glendale Adventist Medical Center (GAMC) in Glendale, CA has used a solution from IBM, NoMachine, and Novell to bring email and Web access to patients' bedsides, and they saved some serious  maintenance and energy costs in doing so.

GAMC has installed thin clients in 65 rooms of its new West Tower, enabling patients to surf the Internet; communicate with friends and family with e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook; and--a huge need for patients and their families--research medical information about their condition.  

As you might suspect from the players involved, this is a virtualized Linux solution. Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) is the front-end desktop environment for the 65 machines, which NoMachine's technology providing the remote and encrypted access. IBM provided the System x3650 server for the back-end, and consulted on the design of the system with GAMC's staff.

Using this approach saves the hospital a lot of operating expenses, as one might expect. But even I was surprised at just how much. According to IBM, the hospital receives 96 percent fewer maintenance calls to hospital rooms than the hospital's stand-alone PCs, and saves 98 percent on IT support. 98 percent is huge--and makes me wonder just how fast these new systems will pay for themselves.

That's not the only savings: it's estimated that GAMC will save about 60 percent in electricity costs versus stand-alone PCs.

The virtualized solution means that after patients check out of the hospital and go home, all of their personal data on the SLED clients will simply just be removed for when the next patient comes into the room, which is a nice privacy feature.

In the grand scheme, a hospital using 65 thin-client Linux machines may not seem like a big deal. But Internet access is more than just a luxury for patients. When you or a loved one is sick, and a doctor is giving you all the information they can, it's still very comforting to be able to research and learn even more about the ailment and its treatment.

And with savings like these, other hospitals should definitely take note for their own patient care plans.

 

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