For hospitals, Apple mobile device management means third-party add-ons

To corral the plethora of iPhones and iPads that medical professionals use, hospital IT managers increasingly turn to third-party, system-agnostic mobile device management tools.

The Apple Inc. iPhone and iPad rank among the more popular devices making the rounds in hospitals -- and, as their use continues to grow, IT managers face the tough task of Apple mobile device management.

Learn more about Apple mobile device management

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Heartland Health, an integrated health delivery system based in St. Joseph, Mo., has standardized for the most part on the iPhone. It uses specialized iPhones in nursing units. Those devices come equipped with clinical communication software from Voalté Inc., lack a SIM card, and only work on the provider's Wi-Fi network. The hospital also supplies iPhones, without those modifications, to physicians.

The provider's mobile device population stands at about 500 -- and with increasing numbers comes increasing complexity.

"As our number of devices has grown, we are finding that provisioning those devices and keeping them secure are the most difficult things," said Kevin Cagg, team leader for client support at Heartland Health.

Cagg said the health system has been using iPhone-native tools to manage the devices. But the organization recently opted to deploy mobile device management software from Voalté to keep tabs on its phones. The software company's Voalté Connect product is based on AirWatch LLC's mobile device management technology.

"We are at the point where we need a more robust set of tools," Cagg explained.

Other hospitals have come to the same conclusion -- the need to manage and secure mobile computing and telephony units only expands as the devices proliferate. And a good chunk of what they are managing tends to carry the Apple logo. Apple devices are a common sight in many health care settings, whether provided by hospitals or supplied by clinicians. Manhattan Research last year reported that 75% of U.S. physicians own Apple products such as iPhones, iPads or iPods.

To that end, hospitals are tapping mobile device management products to track Apple and other mobile brands.

The Ottawa Hospital, for example, uses MobileIron Inc. software to help secure its iPhones, iPads and iPods. "It allows us to enforce our security policies on devices," said Susan Berezny, information security officer at The Ottawa Hospital.

These mobile security policies include the use of PINs for device access, a timeout function that locks down the device after a certain amount of inactivity and the ability to remotely wipe devices in the event of loss or theft. When a hospital employee reports a missing device, a tech receives a page and purges the device of its data.

As our number of devices has grown, we are finding that provisioning those devices and keeping them secure are the most difficult things.

Kevin Cagg, team leader for client support, Heartland Health

Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is exploring mobile device management as it grows its population of handheld devices. The VA, which runs more than 150 hospitals and numerous veterans centers and clinics, has been using BlackBerry devices for years but has broadened its technology base. The department currently uses about 500 Apple devices and has the procurement authority to purchase 1,500 more this fiscal year.

"As we get into the iPads, iPhones and idevices, we need to become a little more disciplined and structured because of the potential risk, given the type of data we deal with," said Horace Blackman, chief information officer, Central Office, Department of Veterans Affairs. "We are in the process of looking at a mobile device management solution that will give us end-to-end management capabilities."

Blackman said mobile device management will let the VA manage devices more efficiently. Mobile device security is the major impetus, he noted, citing the ability to remotely wipe the data from a lost or stolen device. The technology also provides administrative help, such as adding or removing access rights.

Most of the VA's new crop of tablets and smartphones reside at VA headquarters, but the department has started rolling out small numbers of devices to hospitals, Blackman said. Mobile device management technology, when acquired, would apply to both centralized devices and those dispatched to hospitals.

Apple mobile device management: Different strokes for different distribution channels

Mobile device management software from vendors such as AirWatch and MobileIron span multiple operating systems and devices. Devices, for the most part, are managed in the same way. However, Rob Campbell, chief executive officer of Voalté, said the way mobile devices interact with management technology may differ somewhat. Specifically, an Apple mobile device management system must account for the various kinds of iOS apps and distribution channels.

To wit: A hospital may acquire iOS apps through Apple's App Store, through Apple's volume purchasing plan, or through its own in-house development efforts, Campbell noted. App Store apps are sold individually through the retail channel.

But volume purchasing plan apps, which may be tailored to a particular customer, are sold in volume to corporate buyers. In the latter scenario, an MDM system should be able to distribute a volume purchasing plan app across the health care enterprise.

Campbell also noted that some applications may be content-only apps that need to be pushed to client devices.

John Moore is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based freelance writer covering health IT, managed services and cloud computing. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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