Healthcare mobility is balancing act between security and usability

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Protecting some of the most personally sensitive information for the most security-conscious government agencies is no small task, and a panel of government healthcare experts said their primary challenge is to balance security with the ease of use that mobility brings.

In the planning phase for new programs, Neil Evans, codirector for connected health at the Veterans Health Administration, said at the Federal Mobile Computing Summit that his agency addresses security first. He said security is something that needs to be looked at during initial planning stages to prevent more work later when something goes wrong.

Andrew Jacobs, branch chief for HIT Innovations Strategy & Planning for the Defense Health Agency (DHA), echoed Evans sentiments. A soldier can go from combat to continuing care in a matter of 24 hours, and the healthcare data in transit must be secure and not reside on a single device, Jacobs explained. Most of his agency's mobile apps are standalone, and they do not transmit information to care providers.

Jacobs said that stringent policies are required when it comes to programs like bring-your-own-device. "We look at it from the perspective of 'bring-your-own-government-device,'" he explained.

Jacobs said the average soldier and employee are getting younger and more used to constant technology use. "They don't want to be tethered to one device. From our perspective, that can be a challenge when it comes to recruiting," he said.

Evans agreed with Jacobs in an interview with FierceMobileIT following the panel, saying the VHA's data showed an interest in using technology to access healthcare services. Among the 6 to 7 million patients his agency works with each year, 2.5 million enroll using the Web and 1 million follow through with using the Web to send secure messages to their healthcare providers.

That willingness to adopt technology identifies openness to new channels for communication, and it is the responsibility of healthcare providers to determine how to best serve patients. Evans said that effectively promoting application adoption lies foremost in practical usability.

"I like to use the banking industry as an example," Evans said. "If you give me an application that teaches me sound principles about how to manage my money, I might flip through it once. But when you give me an online banking application that lets me deposit checks, review my balance, engage in transactions, understand my own data that the bank holds, I use it all the time," he concluded.

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