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The Curious Case of iPads in Healthcare

March 8, 2012
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When it comes to adopting tablets in healthcare, there remains a disconnect between physicians and IT leaders

A few weeks ago, I had a nice chat with Lane Cooper, editorial director of BizTechReports, an independent research and reporting agency, about why healthcare IT executives are hesitant to bring consumer-based tablets like Apple’s iPad into the fold. BizTechReports interviewed 100 executives and IT professionals within hospitals, and 66 percent of them said tablets like the iPad create governance challenges.

Cooper explained that tablets like the iPad go against the governance rules put in place by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Actof 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA, Cooper says, wants data to be shared and protected securely. As he sees it, certain consumer technologies are not designed to support these governance rules and this is why tablets haven’t exactly been welcome with open arms by healthcare IT leaders. Cooper even asked a pertinent question, one which I think bears repeating:

Should the burden lie with regulations to support a consumer tool, or should the tools evolve to meet the requirements of these important legislative developments?

Another survey, highlighted by Healthcare Informatics Contributing Editor David Raths in his recent Top Ten Tech Trends feature, The BYOD Revolution, finds only 38 percent of healthcare CIOs have a policy in place that regulates the use of mobile devices, according to the Health Information and Management Society (HIMSS).

There are additional reasons why tablets and other consumer mobile devices aren’t the favorites of healthcare IT leaders. A similar survey from SpyGlass Consulting Group (Menlo Park, Calif.) claims 75 percent of the physician respondents say hospital IT directors are reluctant to support mobile devices because of security and cost reasons. There are also durability concerns, which Cooper outlined to me when we spoke. The governance issues, however, seem to weigh in importance over everything.

You might be asking, what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that physicians really like using tablets and have been bringing them to hospitals where they practice in increasing numbers. As a result, CIOs are having to come up with strategies to secure these devices in response.  This contrasts with earlier strategies in which CIOs distributed institutionally provided devices.

A survey last year from Waltham, Mass.-based QuantiaMed surveyed more than 3,700 physicians and found 30 percent said they already use a tablet, with 65 percent saying they are likely to use one in the coming few years. With this in mind, there are countless healthcare IT vendors trying to take advantage of physicians’ tablet fever. When I was at HIMSS12 a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, you could barely walk five feet without seeing a vendor shilling some kind of tablet-friendly product.

One company I spoke with, Motion Computing (Austin, Texas), makes tablets for the healthcare sector. Not surprisingly, Motion went out of their way to convince me their tablets are durable, easy to use, and most importantly, secure.

Physicians love using these tablets and love using them to improve clinical outcomes. As Kenneth Kleinberg, senior healthcare director for health consulting and research firm the Washington, D.C.-based The Advisory Board Company, told Raths in The BYOD Revolution, “One CIO at a recent meeting told me, ‘If I told physicians they couldn’t bring their own mobile devices, I’d be shot.’”

When it comes to mobile, the back-and-forth between physicians and IT managers will continue to be an interesting interaction as time goes on. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to think the deck is stacked against IT leaders and that the physician holds all the cards. Tablets in healthcare seems to be inevitability, but can healthcare IT leaders have this happen on their own terms?

I’m interested to hear everyone’s take, feel free to leave a comment below!

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