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Six reasons IT leaders embrace the use of healthcare tablets

Six reasons tablets like Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface and Google Android variants make sense to healthcare CIOs for clinical workflow integration.

Apple and Microsoft now are fighting mano a mano in the tablet arena, and Google Android-based tablets are gaining popularity. Their prospects in clinical workflows grow rosier as the manufacturers up the stakes in their race for a share of the healthcare tablet market.

With each successive tablet generation's lighter and faster models and improved displays, many consumers are comparing the different devices to decide what their next handheld companion will be. More importantly, though, they're deciding which device will be the one to take on some of the roles that laptop and desktop computers have traditionally occupied.

The rise in enterprise tablet use is likely to please many practitioners who have been equipped with multiple devices in their day-to-day rounds.

This continues to be the main question about tablets: When will they be able to replace laptops and desktops? Today more than ever, processor speeds, battery life and applications allow many employees to rely on remote access tools to still gain access to traditional applications hosted in data centers. Equipped with wireless keyboards and connectivity to monitors, tablets can be converted into laptops when necessary.

This increasing popularity of tablets has also been noted in Forrester's Global Business and Consumer Tablet Forecast Update 2013 to 2017. The research organization forecasted tablet sales will rise from 122 million units in 2012 to 381 million by 2017. The report's authors predict 1 billion tablets will be in use worldwide by 2017.

What is driving their popularity in the enterprise? Here are six reasons:

Manageability and support: Mobile device management (MDM) tools simplify administration of mobile devices, regardless of operating system or manufacturer. MDM products reduce the amount of complexity associated with laptops on the enterprise network. This creates an incentive for IT departments, who are already busy with managing larger products, to promote tablet use.

Portability: While it may not be the case for all hospital users, some practitioners can certainly benefit from using smaller and lighter devices. While moving from room to room, or between different departments, some clinicians see tablets as a great fit; they can access patient information at their fingertips. For these users, not having to seek a workstation or a laptop provides a way to help them maintain high efficiency. This makes most tablets very appealing compared to the traditional laptops that may not always have battery life as long as that of tablets.

Application availability: Not all current EMR products offer full functionality on mobile devices and tablets. But desktop virtualization vendors such as Citrix and VMware help bridge the gap. These vendors enable enterprise users to stream and access applications on many devices of employees' choosing. Whether the preferred tablet operates on iOS, Windows or Android, users can simply connect to remote sessions and have full functionality on their touch tablets. Microsoft released a mobile app that enables native support for remote desktops on a number of non-Microsoft platforms. This news has been welcomed by many IT departments that use Microsoft terminal services for application delivery.

Cloud adoption: Cloud-based services continue to attract more and more organizations. From hosted email services, cloud storage, HIEs and practice management systems to unified communications, these services have enabled ease of connectivity and access. In many cases, having access to data can be as easy as downloading the app and logging in; data access happens immediately. For example, in addition to email access, work-phone extensions can be accessed directly on a tablet with unified communication platforms that fully support mobility. Plus employees, without IT staff assistance, can quickly set up and manage EHR platforms."

Bring your own device (BYOD) to work: IT may not offer too many options when it comes to tablet support, but there are some mobile management capabilities and level of control available that ensure device security and protections and, thus, make healthcare CIOs more comfortable with providing a choice of tablets for clinicians who want them. By offering more than just one standardized device, these CIOs see an opportunity to satisfy end-user preferences. Tablets come in different sizes, and experiences, and by embracing those choices, IT will empower end users while still not sacrificing manageability and security.

The rise in enterprise tablet use is likely to please many practitioners who have been equipped with multiple devices in their day-to-day rounds at healthcare facilities. Some will leverage the capabilities of the dual-functioning Windows-based Surface tablets (laptop/tablets); other users will stick with their iOS or Android tablets and leverages the mobile apps. Either way, everyone will start seeing the shift away from, but not completely abandonment of, traditional PCs and laptops.

Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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