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From improved security and administration to better tablet battery life, there's a lot to like in Windows 8 for healthcare organizations.
Doctors and nurses depend on mobile computing devices every day. Whether they're standing by the patient's bedside or typing away in their office, clinicians need to enter and access patient data to make appropriate treatment decisions. Windows 8 mobile devices make it easier than ever for busy clinicians to stay productive in the healthcare environment. Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise offer 10 features that are especially relevant for clinicians who need to maximize productivity while protecting sensitive patient data.
Dr. Joseph Kim is the president of MCM Education, a publishing company that provides continuing education for physicians, nurses and pharmacists, and the founder of MedicineandTechnology.com, MedicalSmartphones.com and MobileHealthComputing.com.
Enterprise Application Support
Many hospitals' enterprise applications run only in a Windows-based environment. Common examples include modern electronic health record (EHR) applications and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems that let doctors enter medical records through computers. Windows 8 tablets let clinicians run enterprise applications natively on a thin, light mobile device that they can carry throughout the hospital. Windows 8 gives clinicians access to a mobile operating system as well as a corporate OS that is familiar to them. Having such a powerful device at the bedside improves workflow efficiency and boosts overall productivity.
Multitasking on a Windows PC is a different experience compared to traditional mobile tablets like iPads or Android tablets. Windows 8 lets clinicians open multiple windows and quickly move from one application to the next. You can also easily run two applications simultaneously on the same screen. This type of multitasking efficiency is important for busy doctors who need to minimize the number of taps or keystrokes to accomplish mission-critical tasks related to patient care. For example, they may need to view patient data in one application and enter orders into a different one. This is where Windows 8 provides clinicians an interface that is both familiar and highly efficient.
Enhanced Information Security
Patient data contains sensitive information that clinicians can't afford to compromise if a device gets lost or stolen. Mobile devices used in healthcare need to use the latest data encryption features to maximize the security of patient health information. Windows 8 Pro has a number of enterprise-level built-in security features. BitLocker Drive Encryption, for example, encrypts the entire hard drive on a Windows 8 PC, while BitLocker To Go can also encrypt data stored on a USB flash drive. Windows 8 devices also support a variety of enterprise-level security applications that may be integrated into the BIOS settings.
Windows To Go
The bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon causes headaches and frustration for hospital IT managers, since many consumer mobile devices don't provide the robust information security that's necessary in healthcare. Windows 8 Enterprise introduces a feature called Windows To Go. With Windows To Go, an admin can copy Windows 8 to a USB flash drive and then give that flash drive to a doctor or a nurse. The clinician can use that flash drive on a PC at home to boot up into a secure environment and access applications and files. Microsoft only supports USB flash drives certified for Windows To Go; most of them come as 32, 64, 128 or 256 GB.
Windows 8 Enterprise includes a feature called DirectAccess through which remote users can access resources inside a corporate network without having to launch a separate VPN. This is especially important for doctors who need to see patient records when they get a call in the middle of the night from a sick patient.
DirectAccess also helps IT administrators apply the latest policies and software updates remotely. When DirectAccess is used along with Windows Server 2012, the entire solution is easier to deploy and implement within existing IPv4 infrastructures. In the same example, that busy doctor who needs to log on from home won't be bothering the IT administrator in the middle of the night.
File Version Tracking
Doctors often share files with other clinicians as they collaborate on projects. The Windows 8 File History tool lets them track changes and restore lost, damaged, or deleted files. You can also view different versions of files from a specific point in time. If there's a question regarding recent edits or changes to a file, you can see when the most recent changes occurred and quickly identify what's different. This is particularly important in an industry where audit trails are often called upon to answer legal question.
Microsoft has offered some version of System Restore on recent Windows operating systems. This lets you undo system changes that are affecting performance or causing other issues. System Restore on Windows 8 makes it easy to restore a PC to an earlier state, referred to as a "restore point." You can also wipe a PC clean or reinstall Windows 8 altogether. IT administrators can guide clinicians through the process.
It's worth noting that System Restore will delete all files, settings and applications, except for those that came with the PC. If that's a concern, you may want to try a System Refresh first. Also note that System Restore isn't available for Windows RT.
IT administrators need the ability to control which apps get installed on hospital devices. Windows 8 Enterprise features AppLocker, which gives IT administrators control over which applications and files users can run on their PCs. These include executable files, scripts, Windows Installer files, DLLs, Packaged apps and installers. This level of IT control and oversight provides a greater level of data security and minimizes the risk of potential data breaches.
Sideloading Windows 8 Apps
As more touch-optimized Windows 8 apps for healthcare are developed and published, IT administrators can install those apps directly onto PCs running Windows 8 Enterprise. A new feature called enterprise sideloading lets administrators install Windows Store applications without publishing and downloading them from the Windows Store itself. By installing the app directly to a Windows 8 device, IT administrators save a significant amount of time.
Windows 8 Tablets
Newer Windows 8 devices are lighter, faster and offer much longer battery life compared to their Windows 7 counterparts. Windows 8 tablets powered by the dual-core Intel Atom processor only weigh 1.3 pounds and have a battery life of up to 10 hours—which is crucial for surviving an 8-hour hospital shift. Many Windows 8 tablets also have docking stations that quickly convert that mobile PC into a full workstation. This gives doctors and nurses more flexibility when entering patient information into an electronic health record.