VA tests iPhone EHR app for summer rollout

By Mary Mosquera
11:38 AM

Clinicians at the Washington, D.C., veterans’ medical center have developed an electronic health record application for the Apple iPhone that the Veterans Affairs Department hopes to begin rolling out this summer.

VA is distributing a limited number, up to 1,000, of mobile devices, starting with the Apple iPhone and iPad, when there is a business case for them, such as at the D.C. VA medical center.

It is one of the examples of how VA is demonstrating that it is incorporating up-to-date technology in its operations, said Roger Baker, VA CIO. 

The “clinic in hand” mobile app enables a physician to have on his or her handheld device information about the patients to be seen that day, be able to review that information when the clinician wants to, and to use it while visiting patients. A number of clinicians at the D.C. facility conduct their rounds with the app, which uses encryption to protect personal data, to prove it out, Baker said at an April 25 tele-briefing with reporters. 

[See also: VA, DoD to make imminent 3M Health Data Dictionary part of iEHR.]

“The EHR app is really powerful. It is reported to be a significant time saver, and I would use the phrase morale improver, but primarily it makes it clear that we’re using the latest technology at the VA again and not just older technology,” he said. 

VA anticipates the app being deployed once a more robust mobile device manager (MDM) is in place this summer than the current one. The more robust MDM will be able to manage and secure up to 100,000 mobile devices across the department as they are acquired, he said. Over time, VA will add other mobile platforms, such as the Android system.

Other technology that VA is putting in place is enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities across all VA campuses. So far, VA has deployed it at about one-third of VA facilities and will complete it at the remainder of facilities over the next two or three years. VA network access will be kept separate from Wi-Fi access available to patients to safeguard personal information. 

Wi-Fi will be used as the backbone for VA’s real-time location system (RTLS) to track equipment and even patients and augment it in in certain cases where more specific location is required, Baker said. 

For example, Wi-Fi is good up to a certain point for identifying where a device is. A surgeon wants to know that everything that is needed to perform surgery is in the room before starting. A different technology to do that kind of RTLS than Wi-Fi is needed “because Wi-Fi sees through the walls and can’t tell you whether it’s room A or B. So we’ll augment the WiFi, which will be our general signal, and do the backbone of our work with some fine-grained capabilities that will help us on the medical side,” he said.

[See also: 5 reasons EHR functionality hasn't changed since 1982.]

On the VA and Defense Department integrated EHR, work is beginning on implementing the enterprise service bus, a middle layer of software, “so tools can be hooked to it and interfaces can start being defined,” he said. 

Harris Corp. will provide its service-oriented architecture (SOA) suite as the platform to migrate legacy systems, including DOD and VA’s separate EHRs. Software includes the enterprise service bus, which will act as a virtual infrastructure that enables services stored in the cloud to be available for all members of the DOD and VA healthcare systems.

VA and DOD plan to begin operating the iEHR in 2014 at their facilities in San Antonio, Texas, and Hampton Roads, Va., which is also a site for exchanging health information between VA, DOD and private providers through the nationwide health information network (NwHIN) Exchange as part of the virtual lifetime electronic record (VLER) program.