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iPad Security: How a Hospital Group Treated Trouble

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
February 07, 2011 01:09 PM ET

CIO - Doctors have fallen in love with the Apple iPad, becoming one of the biggest early adopters among professionals. They want iPads for personal use and to get their work done. It's the latter that has healthcare IT staff scrambling to secure the devices.

The problem is that the iPad's consumer-driven origins come into direct conflict with the nature of healthcare—namely, patient confidentiality and reliance on a few critical client-server apps.

Can the iPad succeed in hospitals?

"We had physicians coming to us as soon as the first iPad came into the Apple Store wanting to connect everything," says John McLendon, senior vice president of Adventist Health System (AHS), a not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider with 44 hospitals across 12 states. He is also CIO for AHS Information Services, which maintains clinical and business systems for many of the hospitals.

[ One enterprise embarks on a two-year Apple mobile makeover, reports CIO.com. | What happens when a CEO gives iPads to everyone? ]

For the past few months, McLendon has been working with tech vendors to make the iPad a viable tool in healthcare. He's had to implement a virtual desktop Citrix solution while he waits for one of his key patient-care app vendors, Cerner, to improve on its mobile offering.

Meanwhile, security and management of the iPad falls to Sharon Finney, AHS's corporate data security officer. She has been busily architecting what she calls a "sandbox" network with limited functionality and access that gets around the iPad's security shortcomings. Her assessment: The iPad can be secure enough for doctors to get much of their work done today, but the platform still has a ways to go.

Form-Factor: Hospitals Familiar with Tablets

The iPad took many hospitals by surprise, as well as their oft-conservative IT staff. "The way we do a lot of the more strategic-oriented projects here, we plan them out for a couple of years with road-mapping sessions," says McLendon. "We didn't have a plan to embrace the iPad."

McLendon couldn't prepare for the iPad as he could with enterprise-class devices. He couldn't get his hands on a pre-release iPad model in order to test and certify it in his environment. He didn't even know when the iPad would be released to the general public.

When the iPad finally hit Apple Store shelves, doctors bought them up. Consider the findings of a survey by Good Technology, a mobile device management vendor: The number of iPad activations, from September to December last year, dramatically dipped at healthcare firms. The dip is indicative of a massive early adoption.

"Healthcare moved so quickly to the iPad, there was so much pent-up demand, that there was that initial spike," says John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy technology at Good Technology, "and then things leveled off."

One of the reasons for the fast adoption of iPads in healthcare is doctors' familiarity with tablets. AHS, for instance, has Panasonic Toughbooks in its hospitals. But the difference between these tablets and iPads, at least from a security standpoint, is night and day, says Finney.

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