Are Chromebooks a Right Fit for a Physician Office?

For anyone involved in Healthcare IT they know there is always a need to find a mobile solution that is low cost and is secure.  This is even more evident as the new Healthcare reform becomes a requirement for physician practices.  So the question is whether a minimal device such as a Chromebook can be used in the physician practice. In today’s EMR environment most of the vendors are either browser or Citrix based which is where this review will begin.

Background Chromebook

The Chromebook is the OEM version of the Chromium OS Open Source project which was initiated by Google.  From a user perspective, the Chromebook is strictly a browser based laptop that allows access to applications via the Chrome Web Store or ones that are truly browser based.  The Chromebooks are now available from Samsung and Acer.

Most Secure Browser
Earlier this year, the Chrome browser won Pwn2Own (a well known hacker contest) which caught the eye of a lot IT security analysts as the best new secure browser.  One of the kudos to the Chrome development staff is that are continually releasing security and performance updates.  In addition, the Chrome browser is becoming more and more compatible with applications that have been traditionally only usable by Internet Explorer.

Citrix Availability
In the Healthcare industry a lot of EMR and clinical applications have been provided to their users via Citrix for years now.  Recently, Citrix became available for user on the Chromebook which allows access to these applications whether they are hosted on a local or remote Citrix farm.  Unlike most traditional Citrix clients the one for the Chromebook requires that files be setup on the servers providing the access.

Zero Local Storage
One of the most attractive features of the Chromebook from a healthcare data security perspective is the lack of local data storage.  This is a big benefit to the IT support because it rules out the possibility of sensitive patient data being stolen if the laptop  is lost.  However, the downside is that it requires the physician to utilize cloud based services for email and office productivity tools.  One cost saving opportunities for not having local storage is the ability to eliminate encryption software on the laptops which is required in some states.

Relatively Low Cost Device
An OEM notebook can be purchased from $329 – $499 from the vendors mentioned above depending on whether you want a Wifi or 3g model.  Some may dispute the fact that is too much to pay for a laptop that only has a browser installed.  However, there are a lot of cases where EMR and/or consulting companies are convincing physicians need a standard laptop that at the cheapest is around $499 as well.  However, there are hidden costs with a full blown laptops such as licensing, security updates, and supporting staff.

Wrap Up
The Chromebook is a fairly new player in the laptop market and thus dont’ have a large installs are not necessarily in place.  The take away should be that physicians should consider the best low cost and secure solutions for their practices as they look into deploying EMRs to meet the healthcare reform law.

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