The iPad revolution is coming to a hospital near you

Despite what fearmongers say, iPads not only satisfy HIPAA rules but may be the best tool for doctors and nurses

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The iPad's battery life is a good 10 hours, perfect for a hospital environment. It's extremely portable -- and the new iPad Mini even fits in doctors' lab coat pockets. You can get Wi-Fi-only models for use within hospitals and larger clinics, as well as Wi-Fi/cellular models for use in the field. It doesn't run Java, though, which means that the client apps will need to be rewritten either in pure HTML5 or as native iOS apps (the ease of creating iOS apps is pushing most providers to that approach). Either way, it forces a decoupling from Java, and those that go the all-HTML5 route force a decoupling from a specific browser. As you can see, iPad client ports could help solve the major issues on the PC client side as well.

iOS encrypts everything automatically; there's no off switch for that -- perfect for HIPAA privacy compliance. Forcing users to have passwords meeting whatever pattern rules you want is easy: You can do it via Exchange ActiveSync, an MDM (mobile device management) tool, or configuration profiles created in Apple's free Configurator tool (which you can install over USB, email, or website, or push from OS X Server). These two native capabilities cover the two most critical HIPAA privacy requirements for client devices.

Those configuration policies, supported by Apple's tool and most major MDM tools, also let you restrict Wi-Fi access to specific networks or access points -- a lost or stolen iPad is not only encrypted but unable to connect to the hospital systems from outside. You can run an iPad in kiosk mode both through apps and policies, as well as turn off unwanted apps and prevent app installation on devices (common for shared devices). If you allow email on the iPad, you can use policies to restrict how many emails are stored and for how long -- a third major HIPAA privacy requirement. If you want to track individual devices, such as for asset management or to initiate a remote wipe if a laptop or mobile device is suspected to be stolen, compaies like Absolute Software offer tools to do so.

Configuring iPads to conform to HIPAA requirements is straightforward -- easier than on a PC, in fact. There's no HIPAA reason for disallowing iPads in health care, but plenty of operational reasons to want them in the medical front lines.

Could you do the same with other tablets?

For Android, yes. Samsung's and Motorola Mobility's tablets have the key configuration capabilities as iOS to satisfy HIPAA requirements, though the more control you want to assert on them, the less they'll meet your needs. You will need an MDM tool to lock down Android -- there's no equivalent tool to Apple's Configurator, which has the advantage of not requiring you to pay monthly access fees for every device or user, as an MDM tool does. But Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 supports pen computing, a real advantage in a medical environment.

For Windows 7 or 8, yes -- you'd do for them what you do to a PC at a desk or on a cart. But you get less than half the battery life of an iPad or Android tablet. Realistically a Windows tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro may not be a good fit, and Windows RT tablets like the Surface RT lack much of the security capabilities a medical organization would need.

Over the next few years, expect to see iPads as routine equipment in medical offices, ambulances, and hospitals. If you're in health care IT, now is the time to get started on making it happen.

This article, "Health care, the iPad, and why HIPAA is no barrier," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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