iPads: Tempting, but tricky

Don't dive in whole hog with iPads just yet. Your medical staff and other clinicians may be chomping at the bit to try out the new devices, but nonmedical users' experiences show that rolling out large numbers of iPads at once can mean potential big trouble for your IT department.

First, consider where, and to whom, you want to provide the devices. Physicians may seem like a natural choice, but it depends upon what kind of computing they plan to do. The best users are information consumers--clinicians who mostly surf for information on your network or the Internet, or check email. The worst: Information producers, or doctors who are creating large files such as care plans or notes on surgical procedures.

Other potential iPad problems to consider:

Security risks. The level of data access physicians need should determine whether they're right for an iPad or not. You'll need to install some hefty encryption tools and firewalls if you give iPads to doctors who upload and store patient images or other data. And you'll have to enable remote wipe capability, in case the devices are lost. Virtual desktops that link physicians to their data on your network can avoid the data storage dilemma altogether, but that's only if your system is set up to enable virtual computing.

Physician workflow. Test out the devices before rollout. Tampa [Fla.] General Hospital targeted its fast-moving, need-it-now ED as the perfect stomping ground for tablets last year. The effort was "a miserable failure," the hospital's chief medical information officer recently told MedCity News. To be fair, the devices actually used were larger and less nimble than iPads; the CMIO is hoping iPads will be a better fit, but there are no guarantees.

Segregating personal data. Firewalling between personal apps and network or patient data can be tricky, at best. Decide early whether you'll allow users to use their iPads for personal as well as professional tasks. It's a key factor in many hospitals choosing to provide enterprise iPads, rather than enabling physicians' own personal devices.

User envy. It's important to have tech-savvy clinicians head up your iPad pilot, but beware, non-users will get jealous, so have a rollout plan ready to implement sooner rather than later, CIO Dale Potter of The Ottawa Hospital, Ontario, Canada, tells MobileHealthcareToday. Ottawa is in the midst of a mammoth 1,800-device rollout that has created a demand Potter says he can hardly keep up with.

Support overload. iPads may seem like plug-and-play technology, but when connected to a healthcare network, they require serious support. Expect weeks of skyrocketing help desk calls once users get past the initial honeymoon phase and start trying to accomplish real work on their tablets. Users also have to register the devices and sync them with your private network for security, all of which can take weeks.

Christopher DeFlitch, CMIO at Penn State Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center, may have said it best when he told CMIO.net last year: "The iPad has a role in the healthcare industry. The question is where and how does it compare to other devices." - Sara