When you hear the word “virtualization,” you might think of someone wearing a virtual reality headset to participate in a video game or 3D cinema. In the computing world, virtualization refers to the act of creating a virtual version of something, such as computer hardware platforms, storage devices and network resources.

According to Gartner, a global research and advisory company, virtualization is “the abstraction of IT resources that masks the physical nature and boundaries of those resources from resource users.” A component of cloud computing, virtualization enables people to utilize the full capacity of a physical machine by distributing its capabilities among many users or environments.

More and more, virtualization is being applied to health care in the United States. What are the benefits?

Advantages for providers

Virtualization use is increasingly expanding in the health system to improve patient care, promote patient engagement and securely store patient data. Most providers, both small and large, employ at least some type of virtualization because it reduces operating costs and controls access to sensitive data, such as protected health information (PHI). It also allows physicians to access patient information anytime, anywhere and from almost any device.

By promoting clinician communication and collaboration, virtualization helps providers improve their workflow, allowing them to see more patients in less time. It results in increased reimbursement and enhanced patient satisfaction.

Many health care administrators opt to utilize virtualization to boost their IT operations. They can streamline resources by implementing software that enables their staff to combine data from disparate sources, accelerate deployment of applications and promote HIPAA compliance. It mitigates the need for investment in costly hardware and maintenance fees while offering increased scalability, backup space and network flexibility.

Virtualization also can be used as a backup for disaster recovery purposes. Planning for disaster recovery for your data might seem like a tedious process. But it plays a large role in keeping it safe and secure in case of a natural disaster, cybercrime, equipment malfunction or human error. Cybercrime, in particular, continues to be a costly issue for the health care industry.

Cyberattacks are the fastest-growing crime in the U.S., and health care is the second-most cyber-attacked industry. In 2018, more than 15 million patient health records were breached, with the aftermath of a cyberattack costing organizations an average of $1.4 million. That’s on top of negative customer experiences and reputation loss, as well as the effects on the patient who had their privacy compromised and their medical care potentially disrupted.

To combat this issue, virtualization lets health care providers set clearance parameters that allow only authorized users access to certain files and enable monitoring to markedly reduce endpoint breaches.

Advantages for patients

Patients primarily experience the benefits of virtualization through virtual care, also referred to as telehealth. Virtual care is the use of enabling technology, including video, mobile apps (mHealth), text-based messaging, sensors and social platforms, to deliver health services independent of time or location.

For example, follow-up care and monitoring can both be achieved through virtual care, negating the issue of long and unnecessary wait times. Americans living in rural communities who otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t typically seek preventive and medical care can conveniently access it. And, in a post-pandemic world where people are avoiding public places and staying home more than ever, telehealth allows them to see their doctor and get treatment remotely.

Studies show that many U.S. residents struggle with rising health care costs and paying for their patient financial responsibility. Almost one-quarter of Americans report that they, or a close family member, have avoided health care services because of the high cost. Virtual health services such as telehealth provide a less-expensive option. In fact, virtual care interactions are predicted to exceed one billion this year.

Virtual care plays an important part in helping to control infectious diseases by saving patients from having to make in-office visits. Less exposure especially benefits those who are chronically ill, pregnant, elderly or immunocompromised.

At MLS, we prioritize patient privacy, data standards, safety and public health. Learn more about our commitment to health care security here.

Health Care Virtualization Delivers More Access and Security