VA Likely to Endorse Use of iPhones, iPads, Android Devices

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to expand mobile use by clinicians and employees beyond BlackBerrys to include devices such as Android, iPhones and iPad models.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has revealed plans to allow clinicians in the department's health facilities to use additional mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads and Android devices to exchange email and access EHRs (electronic health records).

Clinicians would be allowed to use the mobile devices by Oct. 1, Roger Baker, the VA's CIO and assistant secretary for information and technology, told reporters in a June 30 briefing. FierceGovernmentIT has posted an audio recording of the call.

The VA would perform a security screening of employees' devices before approving their use. "We will review the software first to make sure there's no threat to connectivity," Baker said.

The department is undecided if clinicians would use their personal devices or if the department would purchase them.

Because of timing issues, Baker believes it will be faster to let employees use their own mobile devices rather than have the department purchase them for employees in bulk.

"There's part of me that is leading in the direction that the Vet talked about three or four months ago to say I'm not buying them. But as a user if you want to bring yours in, sign a piece of paper that says we can monitor the software on it and what you're using on it, then we may give you access from your personal device on to the system," Baker said.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who is stepping down in August to return to Harvard, has advocated that government employees be allowed to use their own mobile devices.

Although Baker didn't mention iPhones, iPads and Android units by name, he did say "a particular set of very popular devices" would be cleared for use.

Currently, RIM BlackBerrys are the only products on the department's approved list of smartphones.

Users will be able to access the VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) clinical information system through the cloud but not store data on the device itself, Baker said. The mobile devices would act like a thin client, he said.

VistA is an old EHR system that the department is modernizing using open-source technology. The department has solicited help for the project at FedBizOpps.Gov.

The VA has been working on a pilot that involves storing the department's CPRS (Computerized Patient Record System) on mobile devices, according to Baker. The data would be highly encrypted, he noted. CPRS is the viewable interface for VistA.

Baker described the Oct. 1 target day for mobile use as "Oklahoma Land Rush Day." "That will be the first day we tell folks that they can utilize those kinds of devices," he said. "We're still looking at how the devices will make it into the hands of the users."

Meanwhile, on April 19 the VA and the Defense Department announced an Apple iPhone application called PTSD Coach to help members of the military as well as their friends, family and caregivers deal with the pressures of service.