In recent years, Citrix has been transforming the lives of busy clinicians across the NHS.

Swapping aging, PC-based estates for properly resourced, virtual desktop services, these fast new desktops are saving hard-pressed healthcare workers hours each day, even in the intense environment of the emergency room.

In the process, NHS Trusts’ IT teams are becoming heroes.

This is the first IT system that has actually made my life easier. Before iDesktop, it could easily take five to ten minutes per case simply to access medical records. We would typically see 20 to 25 cases each shift. — Dr. Mike Bacon of the Acute Medical Unit, Portsmouth NHS Trust

Moving to a virtual desktop solution can have a dramatic effect on clinicians’ user experience, eliminating common stresses such as:

  • Waiting long minutes to log on to the only available PC
  • Finding the few available PCs locked by other users
  • Discovering that a given PC can’t run the application you need
  • … or can’t access the required patient records
  • … or simply doesn’t have the power to display the tomographic imagery needed to treat a waiting patient

For hospitals still relying on networks of older PCs, the front-line user experience may be much worse than IT departments appreciate. The simple fact is that clinicians are often too busy to complain. For them, it’s “just the way it is.”

Talking to NHS Trusts around the UK, we’ve found that, while many would like to explore alternative solutions, they just don’t know where to start.

They may have read about successes in other trusts like Bolton or Portsmouth — either in addressing the everyday challenges described above or in enabling new ways of working — but, in a world of limited resources and tighter budgets, it can be hard to know how to begin.

Jonathan Murden has seen both sides of the challenge. Before joining Citrix as one of our Senior Solutions Engineers, he was Principal IT Consultant at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

He says that evaluating alternative approaches and building a business case shouldn’t be hard or expensive, if you take a measured approach.

Jonathan recommends three steps.

Shadow and observe

“Before you start,” says Jonathan, “get out into the business. Ask a clinician if you can spend a week following them around. And, write down what you observe. Write down their experience with IT.”

Of course, he adds, “You need to be prepared to deal with: ‘Six minutes to log on!’; ‘Have you seen how bad this is?’ and similar comments. But, you need that anecdotal evidence to write your business case.”

In the process, you may find a valuable clinical advocate who will support the business case as you take it for approval.

At this stage, it can be useful to contrast your current user experience with that of hospitals that have already deployed a virtual desktop solution.

We can help by arranging visits to NHS Trusts where you can talk to those involved in the decisions and deployment that transformed clinicians’ working experience.

Run a pilot

A pilot is the best way to evaluate and demonstrate the advantages that a Citrix virtual desktop can bring to a busy, healthcare environment. Doctors and other healthcare professionals can see for themselves the value of having instant access to their desktop from any terminal, anywhere in the hospital. The improved user experience means a better clinician experience which, in turn, leads to a better patient experience.

Some hospitals have used part of their annual PC replacement budget to fund their pilot, making creative use of their resources to explore a potentailly better solution for end-users.

When you start to plan, talk to us. We can help by providing technical expertise and our rich experience in the healthcare sector (in the UK and overseas) to design and deploy the pilot.

Take it slow

Finally, Jonathan advises, take it slow. As you develop your business case for a full deployment, don’t plan to spend “mega-millions” in year one.

A slower spend easier on the budget and it will avoid the over-procurement that often blights large technology projects. Planning the project in stages helps you gauge what is really required and adapt to changing circumstances.

What to expect

Simply fixing the basics by making the day-to-day experience better is a huge improvement for clinicians. And, as Jonathan recalls from his time at Portsmouth, seeing the reaction of doctors and nurses is a huge motivation for the IT team.

This is not just about technology as an enabler. It’s not just about putting in faster machines. The Citrix virtual desktop has changed the way our clinicians work. — Brett Walmsley, the CTO at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

[With Citrix], there is no delay. With the complete patient history easily available, we can make early and better diagnoses. And we can see more patients, more quickly, each day. — Dr. Reem Emad, Deputy Hospital Manager, National Cancer Institute, Egypt

At the same time, of course, hospital IT teams see the time and cost benefits of centrally managing a single desktop rather than 2,000 scattered PCs. Instead of running around the hospital campus fixing desktops, IT staff can focus on innovation and further improving the IT experience for clinicans.

Security responses are faster too. During the WannaCry outbreak, one hospital secured all of its Citrix estate in less than two hours. But, it took 10 days to address all of its remaining PC estate.

Improving business-as-usual might seem heroic enough, but NHS Trusts are also using Citrix to transform the working experience through geater flexibility and mobility.

In the second part of our look at Citrix in the NHS, we’ll explore how a virtual desktop can improve response times, community care and, ultimately, patient outcomes.