First Peek: Windows Vista in Healthcare

I thought HealthBlog readers would be interested in a new article I wrote for my House Calls series on Microsoft's Healthcare and Life Sciences site. It's about new features in the soon-to-be-released Windows Vista operating system that will make the OS especially compelling for Healthcare. Enjoy!


Healthcare has traditionally lagged behind other industries in the deployment of new IT platforms and solutions. Anyone familiar with the nuances of the healthcare business understands the myriad of issues behind this. However, when Windows Vista Enterprise is released, there are many reasons why healthcare customers might want to upgrade to the new operating system sooner rather than later. For example, Windows Vista will enable healthcare independent software vendors to build solutions that take advantage of the new operating system's stronger security, improved data protection, improved deployment tools, gorgeous user interface, and robust collaboration environment, and other attributes that make it so compelling for healthcare.

In healthcare, nothing deserves more IT attention than protecting patient data. Organizations upgrading to the Windows Vista Enterprise will be able to reduce business risk by better protecting data, enhancing security, and having access to robust reporting and auditing tools that will help lower the cost of regulatory compliance. The new User Account Control feature, for example, will help limit access to unauthorized users and applications. Administrators will also have control over the installation of removable storage devices to further keep information secure and on premises. Hard-drive encryption will help prevent sensitive patient or financial data from falling into the wrong hands, even if the hardware it resides on is stolen.

To further protect patient data, Windows Vista will detect, block, and remove spyware and other malicious software before it harms network systems.

Reduced deployment and operations costs

As a former hospital chief information officer (CIO) and chief medical information officer (CMIO), I understand the costs associated with managing an IT infrastructure in a large healthcare organization. System deployment and user migration add substantially to the total cost of ownership of each computer in the enterprise. Improved deployment tools in Windows Vista mean it will take substantially less time to get it to the desktop, thereby lowering deployment costs.

Windows Vista includes fixes for known hangs and crashes as well as built-in diagnostics, so downtime is minimized and reliability is boosted. The OS also prevents malicious Web sites from modifying user files or installing malicious software or spyware without the users consent. Your organization's helpdesk costs will be lowered with new diagnostic, remote assistance, and self-help tools in Windows Vista.

Enhanced user experience

Much has already been written about the Windows Vista Aero user interface (UI). Having worked with the new UI, I can say the improved usability and beauty of Windows Vista will be much appreciated in clinical settings. And having seen what our partners envision and are currently developing to take advantage of the new graphics capabilities, I can tell you that clinicians are in for a treat when they start using these new applications. Finally we'll have a UI that can handle the varied demands of clinical computing.

Other attributes such as integrated search will accelerate access to information on a computer, a network, and the Internet. With this feature, users can get a snapshot view of a folder or file's contents, so they can open the right one every time. Easy backup and restore functions help recover data that might have otherwise been lost.

Increased mobility and collaboration

Today's clinical workforce is highly mobile, moving between offices, floors, specialty departments, and affiliated institutions. Windows Vista will help clinicians be more productive (wherever they are) with easy, security-enhanced access to information across locations and devices. There's built-in collaboration for groups of up to 10 users. And wireless connections are more easily discovered, managed, and maintained, thereby increasing mobile productivity.

Auxiliary displays on the next generation of devices show mobile users critical information such as battery life, wireless strength, e-mail messages, contacts, and calendar appointments without having to open or even turn on your notebook computer.

Is Windows Vista right for you?

All that sounds great, you say, but will Windows Vista run on my hospital's or clinic's current computers? That depends on what you have. If you are using computers that are just one or two years old, and they have at least 512 MB of RAM, you should be fine. (If you have it, 1 GB of RAM is better.) However, running Windows Vista graphics in Aero glass mode requires more powerful video cards than are likely to be in your current computers.

Windows Vista just may be the justification you've been looking for to refresh your hardware. In my hospital, we moved from buying computers to leasing them on a two or three year refresh cycle. Every computer in the organization was identically configured, which significantly improved desktop management. This also removed our computers from the hospital's capital budget process where, it seemed, I was always competing with the radiologists demanding the latest generation scanners. And you know who usually wins that argument.

With Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Enterprise Edition, you'll enjoy improved security that helps to protect patient data and diminishes the risk of unauthorized access. You'll enjoy an infrastructure that delivers more with far less overhead as well as improved operational efficiency. With Windows Vista, individuals and teams can access information, communicate, and collaborate with ease. For your hospital or clinic, this translates to more satisfied, more productive clinicians, which, as Martha Stewart would say, is a very good thing.

Bill Crounse, MD Healthcare Industry Director   Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences