Sun’s hot desking improves healthcare data workflow

November 1, 2000

Sun’s hot desking improves healthcare data workflowSmart card approach makes wireless mootCost and ease of use have been the traditional advantages of PCs and Windows NT servers over Unix-based networks. In an effort to bring its

Sun’s hot desking improves healthcare data workflow

Smart card approach makes wireless moot

Cost and ease of use have been the traditional advantages of PCs and Windows NT servers over Unix-based networks. In an effort to bring its products to the masses and compete with the PC computing model, Sun Microsystems has introduced its latest hardware thin-client, Sun Ray, to the medical field. Through a partnership with Creative Healthcare Systems (CHS), Sun has placed Sun Ray networks running CHS’s MedGenix HIS in four community hospitals.

The Sun Ray appliances are the thinnest of clients, having only 8 MB of RAM that the Sun Ray station uses to display the user’s network session. Actual processing takes place on the Sun Ray enterprise server, which must be sized for the number of users and types of applications running. By using different emulators (3270, PC, NT, etc.), the Sun Ray server can access and run programs located on other networks within a hospital.

Sun’s “hot desk” architecture makes the sessions, and consequently the users, mobile. Essentially, everything except for input and output has been taken off the desktop and moved to the server, dramatically lowering the cost of the desktop devices and making the Sun Ray appliances zero-administration and stateless (they maintain no information about previous transactions). This thin-client computing model also removes storage to the server, simplifying data backup.

“From a cost perspective, we’re competitive with the PC market,” said Salvador Cobar, director of strategic sales and marketing for client and technical market products for Sun. “Our clients are seeing a total cost reduction by the first year. Our Sun Ray device never needs upgrading; upgrades occur centrally on the server.”

One of the prime benefits of the Sun Ray all-in-ones is that the healthcare user logs on and off using the built-in smart card reader. Because the applications run on the server rather than locally on the desktop, users can access their sessions from any location on the Sun Ray workgroup and pick up where they left off.

“In healthcare there has been a turf battle on the workstations,” said Steve Everest, president of CHS. “People don’t want to give up ‘their’ space, and clinicians don’t want to log on and off. With the smart card, that all goes away. Workstations become generic, and work can flow from one desktop to the next.”

While the smart card is being used simply as a token to identify users with their sessions, Sun plans to continue innovating with smart card technology as the needs of healthcare facilities grow, Cobar said. The firm may even leverage more of the smart card functionality to include other applications such as digital signatures on the base card.

According to Everest, the Sun Ray appliance concept was particularly suited to CHS’s target market of hospitals with fewer than 200 beds, because of the low cost of ownership and ability to interface with legacy systems. The Springfield, MO-based firm has kept the software cost of its MedGenix products down by using an Informix database for the back end.

“Community hospitals can’t afford to have a database administrator and a network administrator and a PC support staff,” Everest said. “Informix is extremely reliable and inexpensive compared with other relational databases.”

CHS spent about two years laying out the database and modeled it on Lego, he said. The core is the central master patient index, and clients can buy what they need and add in modules later.

CHS markets its MedGenix products in the Midwest and has just begun pursuing business in the southeastern U.S. According to Everest, the firm will be rolling out an ASP-based product in the near future.

Sun also plans to offer Sun Ray via an ASP model. The Sun Ray network dovetails into the ASP concept because it is browser-based and many appliances can run off a single server, according to Phyllis Borner, healthcare industry market development manager for Sun’s Internet Appliances Group. Quality of service is easier to manage and guarantee at the end-user level because the server performs all processing for the workgroup.

Sun anticipates that healthcare adoption of the Sun Ray and its hot desk technology will occur in both the administrative and clinical arenas. The devices can be configured in either a kiosk (touchscreen) or desktop (keyboard/mouse) form, depending on the user’s needs.

“The first thing we’re offering is information access, which is a value proposition to doctors, nurses, administrators, and IT personnel,” Cobar said. “As we learn more about how the Sun Ray fits in healthcare, we’ll start moving into the clinical space, then supply chain management, and finally get into insurance and pharmacy applications. We’re working toward a healthcare network where everyone is connected.”

In addition to its collaboration with CHS, Sun is partnering with approximately two dozen companies in the industry, including Kodak and GE Medical. The firm is pushing its Sun Ray networks into fields such as medical records and medical imaging and is developing ASP-based products with its partners.

“The service provider market is definitely of interest to Sun,” Cobar said. “We’re interested in creating simplicity in the complexity of computing, while solving specific business problems.”