For health care, mobile device support means management, security

As health care organizations are forced to support growing numbers and varieties of mobile devices, robust management, security and user education policies will make things easier.

Health care organizations typically aren't one-vendor shops when it comes to mobile device support.

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From the Health IT Exchange: How are IT departments handling mobile device support?

While Apple Inc. may enjoy a head start in some hospitals, Google Inc. Android smartphones and tablets and the Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry often contribute to the mix as well. Moreover, if IT shops don't formally provide handsets and tablets, chances are physicians or other staff members will bring them on the job. The number of mobile options hitting the market -- including hybrid "phablet" form factors such as the Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Note -- will further cement a multi-platform environment.

"Innovation is happening at an exploding rate in…consumer electronics," noted Gregg Malkary, managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group, which focuses on mobile technologies in health care. "Hospital executives and doctors have the devices, so there is more pressure to support the next-generation mobile devices."

How are health care providers managing and securing heterogeneous devices and the information they access? Health IT executives and consultants suggest a combination of mobile device management, data protection tactics and user education.

Device management top mobile device support need

Mobile device management often crops up in discussions of asserting control over the mobile device population. Products coordinate tasks ranging from application distribution to the remote wiping of wayward devices. 

Health care providers are in various stages of deploying systems. The Ottawa Hospital already uses MobileIron Inc.'s mobile device management product, while Heartland Health is in the process of deploying Voalté Inc.'s Voalté Connect. The Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, is considering a rollout of mobile device support systems for Apple devices.

Rob Campbell, chief executive officer at Voalté, said IT personnel are grappling with the chore of managing upgrades, Wi-Fi configurations, and security options across a dispersed set of mobile devices. He estimated that 90% of his customers have deployed mobile device management, are in the process of doing so, or plan to adopt the technology.  

"Running around and trying to find devices and updating them one at a time is a daunting operational problem," Campbell said.

Device administration -- including tasks such as distributing patches and putting appropriate security controls in place -- is much better handled through a mobile device management system than trying to do it piecemeal, noted David Schuetz, senior consultant at Intrepidus Group, a provider of mobile application and device security services.

It's kind of a moving target. Our policies are a work in progress.

Kevin Cagg, team leader, client support, Heartland Health

Some mobile device management systems span multiple platforms, offering the potential for a uniform management layer. Schuetz said such products handle different operating systems in a similar fashion. "There will be reasonable consistency whether you're talking Android or iOS or Windows or BlackBerry," he said.

Effective mobile device support requires protecting data

Another take on mobile device support focuses on data rather than devices themselves. This approach, sometimes referred to as containerization, isolates business data and applications from personal data, applications, and cloud services. Organizations may use containerization to lend a degree of control to bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives.

Good Technology Inc. takes a containerization tack with its mobile security and control products. John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy, said health care ranks among the company's top vertical markets, along with finance and insurance.

One of Good Technology's health care customers is Onyx Pharmaceuticals. The biopharmaceutical company uses Good for Enterprise to let mobile employees access Microsoft Exchange 2010. Onyx currently supports more than 500 devices, including iOS, Android and BlackBerry units.

Ali Rezaian, senior director of information technology for Onyx, said the company launched its BYOD option last year. This lets users access email, calendar, contacts and internal browser-based applications through Good Client software, which resides on their personal mobile devices.

This method "isolates corporate data from the employee's personal data," Rezaian said, "and allows us to remotely remove Onyx data without affecting the employee’s personal data."

Shands Healthcare, a health system in Florida that operates hospitals and outpatient rehabilitation centers, takes another approach to protecting data -- access to the hospital's electronic medical record system goes solely through a Citrix Systems Inc. gateway.

"I prefer not to have data kept on the devices themselves," Kari Cassel, senior vice president and CIO at Shands Healthcare.

The health system also employs device encryption as an added layer of mobile security. Cassel said Shands Healthcare requires encryption on laptops, for instance, and is further "working through the issue of requiring any handheld mobile device to be encrypted as well."

As technology advances, user education key element of mobile device support

Encryption of mobile devices bumps into limitations, however. Cassel noted that people use a variety of devices, some of which aren't capable of encryption. In addition, the health system can't enforce security policies on personal devices as it does on hospital-provided equipment.

Indeed, security systems alone can only do so much. Health care executives emphasized security policies and user education, in addition to technology, as key components of a mobile strategy. The fast-paced world of mobile technology will keep those efforts in a state of flux.

"It's kind of a moving target," noted Kevin Cagg, team leader of client support at Heartland Health, an integrated health system in St. Joseph, Mo. "Our policies are a work in progress."

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.

This was first published in March 2012

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