St. Joseph’s says thin clients guard data

In January, a researcher’s laptop that contained the personal health information of 2,900 current and former patients at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children was stolen out of his car. As a result, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian recently called upon health-care custodians to take steps such as encrypting data to protect patient information.For St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre in St. John, N.B. – part of the Atlantic Health Sciences Centre – thin-client technology has not only boosted security, but substantially improved workflow.

St. Joseph’s, which serves 9,000 patients with seven GPs and four nurse practitioners, is using 32 Sun Ray 2 Ultra-Thin clients throughout its facility. Java-enabled smart cards provide authorized staff with access to patient data, such as X-rays, from several locations.

Hot desk support
“We went electronic with our patient record system about two years ago and we endeavoured to go paperless,” said Dr. Keith Wilson, a physician at St. Joseph’s. Initially, the health centre went with tablet PCs. “They’re very portable, but they’re a little bit heavy and carrying them around from room to room every day can be a bit of a problem,” he said. The wireless connection also kept dropping out.

St. Joseph’s ran a small pilot last fall with 10 Sun Ray clients. “Very quickly we realized the benefit of the hot desk support, where you can go room to room with a smart card and resume where you left off,” said Wilson. The benefits were noticeable, and soon staff members were fighting over who would get to do the trial next.

“From a security perspective, we leave the room, we take the card with us and we don’t have to worry about it,” he said.

If someone walked away with a Sun Ray, it wouldn’t make any difference in terms of compromising patient privacy.

“You really can’t compromise them because there’s nothing to compromise,” said Edward Moffatt, solution architect for Sun’s Canadian desktop practice. “When you pull your card out, whatever you were looking at is gone.”

In February, the Sun Ray environment at St. Joseph’s became fully operational. Aside from security, thin-client technology has had other benefits. “Keeping caught up on paperwork has got to be the most painful portion of medicine. I’ve never been able to keep on top of things because there’s so much paperwork,” said Wilson. “Since we’ve implemented this, I’ve totally caught up – I no longer have to work weekends doing paperwork. I never realized how important it was to have those precious seconds.”

St. Joseph’s has Sun Ray clients in all patient exam rooms, so GPs can sit with patients and show them X-rays or draw graphs on the screen. “It allows us to focus on other things like chronic disease management,” said Wilson.

“Organizations are justifying Sun Ray both from an IT perspective as well as an end-user perspective, being able to control the environment, being able to protect the environment, and that’s manifested in terms of greater administrative efficiency,” said Jon Erickson, senior consultant with Forrester Research, who conducted research into the economic impact of deploying Sun Ray clients. “We saw one customer reduce administrative costs by roughly 40 per cent.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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