VA's mobile projects put iPads in hands of doctors - and patients

Thursday - 12/6/2012, 6:04pm EST

Kathleen Frisbee on "The Federal Drive"

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For some federal agencies, the mobile revolution — the increasing use of smartphones, tablets and mobile technology — has transformed how they do business internally. For others, going mobile has changed how they interact with the public.

The Veterans Affairs Department's mobile projects, which have centered on deploying devices and applications to improve veteran healthcare, aim to do both.

The department's "Clinic-in-Hand" program, which will launch early next year, will deploy iPads to family caregivers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The iPads are pre-programmed with a suite of apps designed to improve care and provide tips for veterans and their caregivers. About 1,000 people have signed up for the pilot project, said Kathleen Frisbee, the director of Web and Mobile Solutions at the Veterans Health Administration.

Frisbee joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp as part of the special Federal News Radio series, Gov 3.0: It's Mobile.

VA convened focus groups made up of veterans and their families to determine which apps to develop and include on the devices. About 10 apps were selected. They include a pain-management tool, a PTSD app and a prescription-refill app.

But VA isn't only deploying mobile devices outside the agency. Increasingly, VA doctors and nurses are eschewing clipboards and prescription pads in favor of mobile options.

Whether the iPad is in the hand of a caregiver or a VA doctor, the overall mobile strategy is guided by three major goals, Frisbee said.

  • Produce a secure environment for deploying mobile apps. "And that was accomplished through our architecture where everything is doubly and triply encrypted," Frisbee said. "And also mobile-device management software, which we are deploying."

  • Create an infrastructure that supports collaborative applications development, including using shared services to encourage reusing and retooling software code, she said. VA accomplished this, in part, by creating a cloud-hosted development environment, Frisbee said.

  • Design the apps. "We're thinking of this not as discrete apps, discrete entities, but as suites of apps that work together to meet the objective of delivering better healthcare for our veterans," Frisbee said.

Another guiding principle of VA's mobile strategy is to be device-agnostic.

Initially, apps were designed for Apple's mobile operating system, iOS, Frisbee said. But the long-term strategy is to use HTML 5-compatible apps "by and large, unless there's a reason not to, so that they will work across mobile platforms," Frisbee said.

This is for two reasons. One, because veterans and their families (outside the pilot project) use VA apps on their own devices, which run on different software. Also, while VA medical staff in now provided with agency-furnished mobile devices, VA hopes at some point to allow bring-your-own-device for employees as well, Frisbee said.

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