Medical device deployment's dark side

With all of the new iPad fervor this week, it seemed a perfect time to dig into the dark side of these devices, or at least some of the headaches they can cause for hospitals that deploy them.

So I sat down with Apple expert Kevin Hart of Tekserve, who consults with businesses of all stripes--including healthcare--to set up, deploy, manage and support Apple-driven networks.

Interestingly, his strongest guidance for hospitals is the one they're least likely to follow, given the BYOD craze these days: He insists that corporate-owned devices are the only way to get the kind of control one needs in healthcare. Given the endless availability of apps, plug-ins and tools for iPads and iPhones, allowing personal devices on your network eventually will become unmanageable, he warns.

"It's what keeps some of our customers awake at night. If the device is employee-owned, you're opening the device up to anything," Hart says.

Regardless of your BYOD or corporate-owned environment, though, there are some hiccups you can expect when rolling out large numbers of iPads or iPhones. For example:

User compliance leaves something to be desired: iPhone and iPad users are notorious for finding workarounds for settings they don't like. One of the most common: The five-minute max before lockout, Hart says. It frustrates most users, and "people figure out how to go into the settings unit and disengage that. We get calls all the time from users that they've lost the device, didn't have a password set up, or disengaged it."

You simply must set hard-line standards, he says. In the healthcare environment, users have to give up control over which apps they can use while on the network, how they secure the device, remote wipe and lockout protocols, etc. "IT organizations just need to set controls on what they can do," he says.

Setting up user models can be complicated: Sales staff, nurses and doctors all have radically different ways of using iPads, which puts the burden on IT to create customized images for devices being used by each group. Hart's favorite tool for this process is the Apple Configurator, an under-appreciated module that allows you to define the user's role, access, security protocols, and what (and how) they can see files on their devices. It's also capable of setting up and rolling out up to 30 devices at a time, which can be a lifesaver during a large deployment, Hart says.

In a corporate-owned environment, it's particularly useful, as it allows you to sandbox users, and assign different devices according to different roles for shift-work. It even includes a photo of the assigned user on the lockout screen, which can be handy if physicians leave them behind in the break room.

No home runs for hardware/inventory control: Managing a cadre of 500-plus iPads can be a nightmare, he admits, but he just hasn't seen any top-notch inventory management tool yet. "No one yet has a GPS tracking or true monitoring device for iPad," he says. Most clients use an old-school sign-in/sign-out system to identify who has which device, making employees responsible for the unit during their shifts. 

Networking issues can hamstring your rollout: Hart has seen large iPad or iPhone deployments put a drain on client networks. iPads, particularly, are graphics-heavy, and often used to load and view hefty files such as X-rays and other imaging, or video-enabled files. "You may have to beef up your infrastructure to support the traffic. We see this happening with healthcare providers," Hart says. "You need to really do some good planning pre-launch. Users get frustrated quickly if the device is too slow."

Skimp on training and you'll lose users: Apple devices are highly intuitive, he acknowledges. "But as intuitive as they appear to some, they're hyper-complex to other individuals," he says. And users who feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the device simply won't use it.

So, bite the bullet and require a mandatory training session for all users, regardless of their competency level. It needn't be an all-day affair, but should cover different roles, the basic device setup, network access, log-on protocols, how to handle a lockout, how to verify if files have been saved or transmitted properly, and the like. - Sara