mHealth security, communications platforms deserve attention

This week brings insight on two very different issues relating to mobile health technology and use. One is the growing "bring your own device" movement within hospitals and care centers by the nursing population. The second is the fallibility of mobile communications infrastructure carrying all the messaging and data.

While both are very different in nature, they are topics worthy of review and consideration.

A recently released survey indicates nurses are using personal smartphones and mobile devices to jump online for needed job-related insight, resources and knowledge. They're also tapping out messages to colleagues and fellow caregivers during the work shift to get advice and double check patient care requirements. They're doing so for good reasons--to foster the best patient care and to obtain information faster.

The problem, however, is that most devices likely are not secured or protected as much as they need to be because they aren't enterprise equipment. Heck, most of us don't even use the basic 'lock down' feature that comes with a handset because it's annoying to unlock the handset every time we want to use it.

The devices are open and accessible whether they're in our pockets, sitting on a counter or tucked in a work locker or desk drawer. The lack of enterprise security attention to the BYOD environment isn't a matter of the IT organization not wanting to secure such devices, but having the needed resources (money, staff, time) to take on the effort. But there are some best practices that don't require much money or staff or time.

For instance, lunchtime seminars offering nurses insight on a few apps that should be downloaded to secure their handsets would go a long way. So would quick tip/recommendation sheets posted at nurses stations on why it's critical to delete any patient-related data from a handset at the end of the day, as well as any text or messaging that may mention a patient.

In regard to the second topic, a new research report highlights a topic no one has really focused on in terms of mHealth technology and solutions--the fallibility of the actual network systems and transmission infrastructure we all rely on to send and receive text messages, share files and exchange emails. The interesting aspect addressed in the research is how the 'failure' of delivery can and is likely impacting research results as well as any sort of mHealth pilot or new trial program.

It's all well and good to be able to use text messages to help patients deal with chronic illness, but what if those patients aren't even getting the needed messages? Are we just assuming today that every telecom system in place is working perfect and infallible?

As the research reveals, that's not an assumption we can make, and it's why the first step by any research team or provider pilot or trial needs to investigate that the underlying and critical infrastructure supporting the mobile communications effort is trustworthy and reliable. Otherwise, the validation aspect of research and the value of mHealth efforts could be less than stellar. As the authors note in their research, it's an area that hasn't been focused on by other research and demands greater attention.

Just like security in the BYOD realm. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)