Hamilton Health Sciences is a family of seven unique hospitals, a cancer center and an urgent care center serving more than 2,3 million residents in and around the city of Hamilton, Ontario. With a staff of approximately 11 000, the hospital is the largest employer in the Hamilton region, providing excellence in education and research through its affiliations with McMaster University and Mohawk College.
In the province of Ontario, healthcare budgets are under constant pressure. With an aging population, a shortage of doctors and an estimated 140 000 new patients moving to the province every year, hospitals face the considerable challenge of using ever-smaller operating budgets to maintain high levels of service. These constraints can be especially tough on IT teams. At Hamilton Health Sciences, for example, the IT organization must contend with a two percent decrease in its operating budget, all while keeping pace with the latest technologies and delivering hundreds of applications to thousands of users across multiple campuses.
Hamilton Health Sciences has been working with Citrix technology for more than a decade. At first, the organization turned to Citrix XenApp to help deploy and manage a growing number of clinical and business applications. Then, as state healthcare budgets continued to shrink, the organization found it increasingly difficult to replace aging hardware. That’s where Citrix XenDesktop came into play, making it possible to deliver current versions of software on older machines. As a result, the IT team was able to minimize capital expenditures while maintaining a high level of service.
With those Citrix technologies already in place, Hamilton Health Sciences was perfectly prepared for the massive proliferation of personal mobile devices in the years following the introduction of the Apple iPhone and iPad. “We had a bring-your-own-device [BYOD] environment long before BYOD was cool,” jokes Mark Farrow, vice president and chief information officer at Hamilton Health Sciences. “Before the iPad was available in Canada, one of our physicians went across the border and brought one back from the U.S. He wanted to use the device on our network, and we were able to accommodate that request with no issues. We had him up and running in under 24 hours.”
Yet even with those successes, IT budgets just kept getting smaller, and Farrow was running out of options. “There was nothing left to cut,” he says. “We were faced with the prospect of cutting our IT staff, and we had such strong, knowledgeable professionals on our team that I didn’t want to dismantle what we had built. Instead, I decided to make the most of our strengths. That’s when we transformed from an internal department to a service organization called Health Information Technology Services [HITS].”
Today, HITS delivers IT as a service to healthcare organizations across southwest Ontario, connecting 50 hospitals and 4 000 providers through a web portal called ClinicalConnect. This enables clinical care providers to access patient records quickly and securely, delivering superior patient care while maintaining strict compliance with government regulations around patient privacy. Farrow and his team rely on Citrix XenServer to manage a cloud infrastructure capable of delivering virtual desktops and applications anywhere in the province. All of this is fronted by Citrix NetScaler application delivery controllers, each capable of running up to 20 virtual load balancers within a single physical chassis.
By offering IT as a service to other hospitals, Hamilton Health Sciences can help other organizations in Ontario shrink their IT investments, significantly cutting healthcare costs across the province. “The service is especially beneficial for hospitals with fewer than 100 beds,” says Farrow. “They can access the same information system as a major hospital but without investing in the staffing and infrastructure necessary to maintain that. Everyone benefits from those economies of scale.”
Using the HITS model, Hamilton Health Sciences can eliminate healthcare siloes, making it more practical and affordable for hospitals in Ontario to deploy innovative healthcare technology. “Many hospitals in our region would like to be more advanced in their electronic medical record [EMR] deployments, but they simply haven’t had the funds or the personnel to make that happen,” says Kareem Toni, director of HITS Client Services at Hamilton Health Sciences. “By pooling our IT investments, we can advance EMR adoption across the province, and we can do that without going through the same learning curve again and again.”
Greater mobility means better quality of life, even in a heavily regulated environment. “When we created a mobile version of our ClinicalConnect portal for iPads, we started hearing success stories right away,” says Farrow. “For example, one of our physicians had just spent an entire shift at the hospital, and he was on his way home with a hot takeout meal for his family. His phone rang. It was the nursing station notifying him that a patient was having issues. Before ClinicalConnect, he would have driven back, written orders and eventually made his way home with a cold dinner for an unhappy family. Instead, he pulled out his iPad, went online, pulled up the chart and made the change verbally over the phone. He still got home with a hot meal, and the patient got the benefit of faster care.”
As consumerization continues to become a major force in healthcare IT organizations, Farrow is looking to Citrix XenMobile to help manage a growing array of devices without compromising security. “We have 11 000 employees, and almost every one of them has a device in their pocket with more computing power than I had in my entire datacenter 10 years ago,” he says. “XenMobile is going to play a big role in helping us harness that power and make it into a strategic asset.”
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