First VA app store opens network to tablets, smartphones

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The Department of Veterans Affairs recently took two huge steps into the mHealth arena, opening its networks for smartphone and tablet access, and announcing it will open its first-ever app store this month.

One thousand VA workers will get to trade in their laptops or BlackBerry cell phones for a smartphone or tablet, which they can use to access secure email and view patient records in the VA's electronic health record system, according to CIO Roger Baker.

Industry watchers expect the hardware to be iPhones and iPads, based on remarks from Baker earlier this summer, although he hasn't confirmed that yet. But while the VA has added smartphones and tablets to its official procurement list, there aren't currently any plans for a giant department-wide acquisition of either device.

One intended use for the devices is for clinicians to be able to locate and identify patients via their smartphones or tablets. The devices would access a pending real-time location system that the VA plans to install in all of its facilities. The first installation will be at a VA hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., according to NextGov.

Unlike many hospitals, which allow clinicians to use personal mobile devices, the VA is taking a restrictive stance, and using an enterprise-wide mobile device manager. "If I could load an unencrypted email product on my VA-issued mobile device, the mobile device manager would find it and block me from accessing VA information until I removed it," Baker told NextGov.

The app store itself is still in development, according to Baker. None of the VA's apps under development are ready for rollout yet, so the store will be populated for now by commercial apps approved by the VA. Baker expects interest in the apps to grow throughout the rollout period, however, according to a report in GovInfoSecurity.com.

"The concept of building apps and then having an apps store to deliver them ... is a critical piece of this," he says.

To learn more:
- read the NextGov story
- check out GovInfoSecurity.com's report

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