4 mHealth tasks to take on in 2012

As 2012 kicks off, are you tired, overwhelmed and uncertain of where to jump next on your to-do lists? You're in good company. The CIOs I've talked to all echo the sentiment. Mobile technology continues to evolve at a frantic pace and hospital IT systems are struggling to keep up.

So where to start? I've targeted four big tasks I'm certain you'll have to tackle in the coming year. Put these items at the top of your priority list and you should stay a bit ahead of the mHealth tidal wave.

1. Install mobile device management (MDM) software. Ad hoc IT controls may have worked in 2011, but physician use of smartphones is at 80 percent and rising, and more tablets are worming their way into clinician workflow. You need software that can identify the different types of devices in your facilities, control their access across the enterprise, and track exactly what they're doing in and around your networks.

Let's be serious, when the Deptartment of Veterans Affairs indicates it's looking for an MDM system for more than 100,000 tablets, it's time for the industry to catch up.

The good news is that plenty of vendors, including MobileIron and Voalte Connect, offer a host of different MDM products. Just be sure you choose one that can integrate with all your systems and meets HIPAA requirements but doesn't take up too much space on storage-challenged mobile devices.

2. Cut bait on the facility-owned or bring-your-own-device question. This is a decision you simply can't put off any longer. I've talked to CIOs with strong opinions on both sides of the equation, and the reasons for choosing either one are valid.

If you have the budget, handing out facility-owned devices can speed up rollouts, ensure you don't have the support dozens of unregulated platforms and devices and give you unprecedented control over the mobile devices pinging away in your hallways.

On the BYOD side, which gained a lot of ground in 2011, allowing physicians to choose their own devices means you don't have the service or maintain them, constantly upgrade the software or buy physicians the newest hardware. You also don't have ownership issues when physicians download personal apps onto their facility-owned devices, change their configuration or otherwise fiddle with the standard setup you create.  (And make no mistake--they will do all of those things.) Plus, allowing clinicians to choose their own favorite toy, rather than being forced to work on one that doesn't fit their practice, boosts user satisfaction.

3. Train physicians on mobile behavior. I got some big pushback on this issue last month, but I'm holding firm. In 2012 you must give clinicians some guidelines for personal/professional use of mobile devices. Critics say it's not neccessary, that mobile devices are just like telephones a few decades ago--a new potential distraction for busy clinicians, but one that staff will eventually find a way to balance. I agree wholeheartedly.

But there's a big problem: Mobile technologies are invading healthcare practice far faster than phones did, and outpacing the ability of the healthcare industry to reach a consensus on appropriate behavior.

So I say every hospital adminstration should have an open and frank discussion with clinical staff about how mobile technologies can bridge the personal/professional gap. Ask questions: Is it ever okay for a surgeon to text a personal message during an operation? Should nurses answer personal texts while taking a patient's vital signs? Are there times when surfing the Web while administering anaesthesia is acceptable?

I'll admit the answers are multi-layered, and don't necessarily fit well into a written policy. But having the discussion, and educating physicians and others about potential missteps--patient injuries, medication mistakes, surgical mishaps--could go a long way toward getting everyone closer to the same page.

4. Beef up your mobile security measures. Malware. Data breaches. Hackers. Lost smartphones. The list of your mobile enemies continues to grow. This is definitely the year you'll invest in some heftier security measures for mobile technology, such as device fingerprinting to control when and where a user can go on your network via their mobile devices.

Consider moving from simple data encryption to whole disk encryption, to ensure that any lost devices are completely protected. Stronger anti-hacking measures are called for, too, such as blacklist enforcement, anti-SMS phishing and integrity checks.

And if your users have resisted your pleas to regularly update the anti-virus software on their personal or professional devices, this is the year to get tough, and cut off network access to any users whose anti-virus coverage isn't up-to-date. - Sara

Editor's note: Think I'm off base about your mobile IT priorities for 2012? Let me know. What do you see as your top tasks of the coming year?