The Doctor and His iPad Will See You Now

The Department of Veterans Affairs has started connecting as many as 100,000 of its staff members at VA medical centers with tablet computers running on three operating platforms in a move toward electronic health records (EHRs).  According to Federal Business Opportunities, the VA plans to acquire 60 tablet devices every year, which will be shared by doctors, nurses and technicians.

The government’s wish list includes iPads running Apple’s iOS system, tablets running Google’s Android OS and devices using Microsoft Windows.  They’re asking for 20 tablets of each operating system annually.  Additionally they want the vendor to develop an applications store geared specifically to the VA.  The documents detail a multitude of security concerns which they want the vendor to address.  Although Apple’s and Google’s operating systems don’t comply with federal wireless standards, VA officials concluded that security for those systems was sufficient.

Roger Baker, the VA’s chief information officer, previously had announced that the department was working to make iPhones and iPads available to staffers so they could connect to VA networks.  Baker also began testing out an iPad himself.  The tablets are primarily meant for the VA’s medical clinicians, although some might go to staff and managers at its headquarters.  “The solution allows VA to gain visibility to the devices as well as apply enforcement of VA security, management and other applicable policies to the devices from an enterprise perspective.” Baker said.

The VA’s program is virtually identical to a similar pilot test started earlier by the FAA, which experimented with replacing paper copies of electronic flight manuals with an electronic version stored on an iPad.  Federal regulations require encryption and credentialing programs, as well as concerns about lost devices.  Nevertheless, some agencies are under growing pressure to find ways to accommodate mobile technologies to make federal employees more productive.

Baker tried to downplay the impact of the program.  “At this introduction point, it’s not going to have dramatic effect,” Baker said.  “For what you can do with it right now, it’s only somewhat more useable than the other mobile devices we’ve had in our infrastructure.  It will have the same level of encryption, but you will be able to access our information gateway that is more viewable.”

Baker also envisions using the tablets for clinical applications that take advantage of the devices’ display properties, including heart rate monitors and blood chemistry charts, which will allow clinicians to do on-the-spot analysis.  Ultimately, the VA could supply patients in remote areas with tablet computers equipped with full-motion video capabilities to support home tele-health programs.  Baker believes tech-savvy Veterans Affairs physicians will develop future medical applications for tablets that could be provided through an internal VA app store.  By focusing on evidence-based medicine, Baker said VA will have the opportunity to create its own “brand”.

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