Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Use of iPad and iPhone for VA employees gets green light

Author: Thuc Huynh, MD

Starting October, employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs will be using iPads and iPhones. The VA staff will be allowed to use the popular Apple devices in accessing encrypted e-mail messages and viewing certain patient data securely through a system like thin clients that will be linked to VA’s clinical information system. Beginning October 1st, iPad and iPhone will join BlackBerry smartphones as the only mobile devices officially approved by the VA.

Many technology experts see information security as the biggest challenge for the VA once it launches the Apple devices among its hospital employees and clinicians. At the start, employees are only allowed to use the iPad and iPhone for the purpose of accessing encrypted e-mail and viewing data of the patient. With proper security controls and appropriate encryption established in the future, the Apple devices may soon be used for storing patient information, says VA CIO Roger Baker.

Although employees can view sensitive data, they are not able to download or store that information on a mobile device. Currently, the Apple devices do not meet security requirements and they are not yet certified to use encryption in compliance with the Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2. However, Baker believes Apple’s encryption technology is advanced and secure enough to be used in VA clinics.

Baker also added that VA is also looking into accommodating other mobile devices in addition to Apple’s iPhone and iPad and Blackberry in the future. Right now, there are more than 20,000 VA staff members that use the BlackBerry devices. He believes that the more mobile devices used, the less costly it is for the VA. Smartphones and tablets are generally less expensive compared to laptops that they will be replacing. It is interesting to see whether the VA will eventually move away from desktop computers in favor of the more handy mobile devices.

About the author:

Dr. Thuc Huynh is CEO of ScrubdIN, a startup company that aims to help health professionals choose their next medical app. Her main interest lies around how medicine can play a role with web 2.0 and social media. Dr. Huynh is currently Chief Resident at her Family Medicine Residency in Rapid City, SD and received her B.S. and M.D. at the Medical University of the Americas.

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