From The Editor | September 29, 2011

Putting The Management Into Healthcare Mobility

HTO Caduceus

By Vicki Amendola, editor, Health IT Outcomes

Walk the halls of nearly any hospital or major clinic and you’re sure to witness several examples of mobility in action. Wireless networks, both internally as part of a facility's infrastructure and externally through a multitude of wireless carriers, connect an army of mobile access points. Tablets, iPads, laptops, PC-based workstations on custom rolling carts, handheld computing devices, and of course, a plethora of smartphones are rejuvenating information access across a widening provider landscape.

Without a doubt, mobility has become an important strategy due to its inherent ability to better connect providers to patients, improving effectiveness at the point of care. In fact, in "Providers’ Perceptions: Mobility In Healthcare," Porter Research predicts that by 2016, portable medical devices, handheld computers, laptops, smartphones, and associated applications will play a critical role in connecting healthcare providers across a variety of care settings beyond the hospital facility ( i.e. clinics, labs, rehabilitation centers, and home health care). As we continue to navigate this mobility path, one thing is clear — healthcare organizations will be charged to continually enhance existing wireless strategies to support both clinical information access and workflow processes.

Managing this massive array of sophisticated mobile devices has become a complex balancing act between information access and information protection, with the possibility of leaking vital information keeping CIOs across most industries focused on mobility security. It’s no different in healthcare, where regulatory policies such as HITECH and HIPAA, and the best practices found in the blueprints of programs like HITRUST and ISO 27001 remain top-of-mind. But, set security aside for a moment and you will quickly discover there are so many more details to be considered when it comes to managing mobility within your facilities. How will you manage to keep a multitude of devices up-to-date with the latest software revisions, or deploy applications across a varied list of operating systems? How will you track your mobile assets to address concerns like overall inventory, or tackle the problem of misplaced, lost, or even stolen devices?

Enter Mobile Device Management
All of these concerns, and many others, can be addressed with a well-planned and diligently orchestrated mobile device management strategy. In simple terms, MDM (mobile device management) is a set of technology tools used to control devices, data access, users, applications, and configuration settings in regard to mobile devices. But essentially, MDM should be viewed as the vehicle for your facility to extend IT management policies to all of the mobile devices in your network. Using MDM tools, IT can collect and manage a detailed inventory of all devices and operating systems, ideally from a single administrative interface that can be centrally managed. Then, through components such as software management, operating systems management, and mobile security, MDM can facilitate — and even automate — the cumbersome IT tasks of asset management, configuration management, and backup and restore.

Likely the biggest hurdle to overcome when defining your MDM strategy will be determining your approach. For example, will you mandate that all mobile devices used in your facility fit into a rigid set of requirements, such as common operating systems or brands, or will your strategy be flexible enough to adapt to a wide variety of hardware and software? The latter approach is quickly becoming the norm simply due to the speed at which new devices are developed and released, and also in light of the growing ‘on-the-job’ use of personal devices such as smartphones. And, while the immediate inclination may be to restrict the use of personal mobile devices for professional tasks, facilities should be open to incorporating them into a comprehensive MDM strategy. Not only does this flexibility encourage technology adoption rates among clinicians who enjoy the freedom of using their own 'gadgets', but by integrating personal devices into the cache of facility-owned equipment, IT gains the ability to identify the asset owner and specify how the operating systems and professional apps on those assets will be kept up-to-date.

Simply introducing an MDM strategy to tackle the challenges of device updates and security can go a long way toward building and revamping the current health IT mobility infrastructure, however, you must still become an awareness cheerleader. Healthcare organizations need to be diligent in raising awareness among device users — the very physicians, nurses, and technicians using the technology — about how each is individually responsible for protecting the patients’ and the organizations’ confidential information, as well as their own personal information. The truly prepared IT leader will develop and promote an ongoing awareness program to help staff better prepare for and understand the risks of using laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices — ultimately reducing risks and improving care.