Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too

Susan Nunziata, Director of Editorial | 2/14/2013 | 6 comments

Susan Nunziata
In our many discussions about healthcare technology, we rarely consider the physical creation and maintenance of the facilities we're discussing. Yet these, too, require significant IT attention.

The building and maintenance of these facilities is an important part of the healthcare continuum. Just ask Robert Dillard, who heads the IT organization for Healthcare Realty. This Nashville, Tenn., real estate investment trust focuses on acquiring, owning, and managing income-producing properties related to the delivery of healthcare.

As assistant vice president for technology services at Healthcare Realty, Dillard leads a team of 11 IT professionals (with a 12th soon to join the ranks). His team serves 170 employees in 30 remote offices. Healthcare Realty has invested in more than 200 real estate properties and mortgages in 28 states. Its property investments encompass 13.3 million square feet, and the company is responsible for the day-to-day management of 10.2 million square feet of it.

In addition to building and renovating healthcare facilities, Healthcare Realty serves the providers that occupy those properties. Healthcare providers are focused on giving their patients the best possible care, and there's little margin for error (and not much tolerance for downtime) when it comes to making sure buildings are maintained properly.

Dillard told us his company faces the challenge of delivering real-time access to crucial information, including large documents containing architectural plans, marketing materials, PDFs, and high-resolution images, to employees at headquarters and in the 30 management offices:

Our goal is to have all data centrally located in our Nashville headquarters and in our disaster recovery site in Denver. To access the data, our users historically utilized Citrix. The farther from Nashville you are, the poorer your experience gets. It's all based around latency issues. So the employees' experience of the system in an external office does not mirror the experience of an employee sitting in our corporate office in Nashville. For example, when those [external] employees print documents, especially when they have large pictures, it takes a long amount of time and slows down the network connection between that office and Nashville. This affects all the employees in that office, causes frustration, and reduces productivity.

In exploring its options, Dillard told his IT team, "Throw the way we have done things historically out the window. Let's not have blinders on or get stuck in a box. Let's first define what our business requirements are." Those business requirements included:

  • The ability to manage data centrally in the company's datacenters
  • Allowing the user experience of interacting with data to be a local experience, regardless of where a user is based.
  • File locking, so that people working in multiple offices who need to access the same file simultaneously can avoid corrupting one another's work
  • Keeping data synchronized in real-time among headquarters, the satellite offices, the centralized datacenter, and the disaster recovery site.

Dillard and his team ultimately selected the Panzura Global Cloud Storage System and an EMC Atmos private cloud for file sharing and distribution. Panzura said in a press release that the solution appears as just another network drive to users in all locations. Users have permissions-based access to files with LAN-like performance. Features include a global file system, global file locking and deduplication, local caching/pinning, and military-grade encryption.

"For us, as technical people, all the various benchmarking is excellent, but it's really the end user experience that we're trying to focus on, and that's what says we've succeeded," Dillard said. "Too many technology people get focused on the stats versus the end users. We're not here to drive stats. We're here to drive productivity and to make information readily available."

Initial feedback from users has been positive, and calls to the IT helpdesk have plummeted. The solution is being rolled out to 10 more management offices over the next six weeks and will ultimately be available in all 30 locations.

Dillard and his team are also working on a mobile device management effort that he expects to be completed this year:

The goal is to give users anywhere access to their data. One of the big criteria we're looking for with [a mobile device management] solution is being able to segregate our enterprise data from the data that the individual may have on their device and ensuring we can lock down and manage that content on that device. The solution will have to have information rights management functionality. Let's say the user is opening a file on a home computer. We want to have the ability to prevent them from printing that document at home or being able to save it to their C drive. We want to give them a local experience but, once again, continue to manage data in our datacenter.

Healthcare Realty is evaluating a variety of tools, including AirWatch and Microsoft Office 365. "We're trying to figure out how to put together the different building blocks to create the best solution for our end users."

Rather than being daunted by how today's rapidly changing technology environment could endanger the role of IT leaders, Dillard said he is enthused about what lies ahead:

It's a fun time. I've been in the IT world going on 20 years. Now, instead of dictating how people work, we're responding to the way people want to work, trying to architect solutions to what people want and need. That is a big paradigm shift in and of itself. We're responding to the needs of the business, our users, and our customers, and figuring out how to give them what they need to have. It's really an exciting time to be in technology work.

Do you share Dillard's enthusiasm? Or are the challenges and demands of today's IT environment more than you can bear? We want to know. Discuss in the comment field below.

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View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Syerita Turner   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/21/2013 9:30:21 AM
Re: 24/7/365
Very true Hospice. The team is very important that they have the skills that will keep the IT solutions running the way they are intended. An organization is only as strong in IT as their IT professionals.
singlemud   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/18/2013 5:49:37 PM
Great example
This is a great post , I am looking a similar solution as heathcare realty. Global locking, distributed file system, local user experience. Thanks a lot for pointing out this user case
Hospice_Houngbo   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/15/2013 9:26:35 AM
Re: 24/7/365

Nowadays, many industries need their data to be available to their users or employees 24/7/365 and they need to rely on efficient IT teams and "flawless" IT systems for that to be possible.
Hospice_Houngbo   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/15/2013 9:14:13 AM
Re: Facilities Need TLC
Does IT TLC make healthcare employers more productive, even if they are working remotely away from the company's premises? I guess what is important is that they get access to the right resources when they need to.
stotheco   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/15/2013 1:23:41 AM
Facilities Need TLC
I agree that physical facilities need their share of upgrades and maintainance, too. In short, they need just as much TLC as the virtual IT stuff as well, for obvious reasons that, if it's not kept running as it should be, then it won't work as well as it's supposed to.
batye   Healthcare Facilities Need IT TLC, Too   2/14/2013 6:31:26 PM
interesting info, Susan, thank you.... I think this days we expected to have data access 24/7/365... Healthcare included...

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