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7/6/2011
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VA Adds iPhone, Android To Smartphone Mix

Department of Veterans Affairs is a BlackBerry-only shop no more. Staff can soon use Androids and iPhones to access email and EHR system.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will allow hospital clinicians and employees to use smartphones like iPhones and Android-based devices beginning Oct. 1 to access information from its electronic health records (EHR) system and other internal applications, according to CIO Roger Baker.

The move supports a trend by other federal agencies and organizations to explore the effect of employee smartphones--sometimes the device of an employee's choice--on their productivity as well as on IT costs and efficiency.

Currently, BlackBerrys are the only smartphones permitted for official use in the VA. On a briefing with reporters last week, Baker stopped short of saying whether he supports U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra's idea to allow employees to bring their own smartphones into the federal government and have them configured for security and access to agency applications, or if the VA would acquire them and hand them out.

He said is leaning toward the former because of time considerations, although it's "possible that we will have a large-scale acquisition of those kinds of products" in the future.

"The price of the end device keeps going down," Baker said. "This device is cheaper than a laptop and eventually you get to the point where you ask the question of whether you want to be in charge of buying them or you say, 'Look, you can use them, where you get them from is not my business.'"

If employees bring the devices into the department themselves, however, they will be required to sign over rights to allow VA IT staff to monitor the applications on the device, he said.

Moreover, the devices likely will not be able to store any information accessed from the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), the agency's decades-old EHR system, and any data used in email on the device will be encrypted, he said. The VA is currently modernizing VistA using open-source software.

And if devices are lost or stolen--two examples of ways the data breach-prone VA has leaked internal information in the past--the department will be able to wipe them clean of any data.

That said, the VA is piloting the use of an application with the handful of employees already using smartphones that allows them to store encrypted data on the devices, Baker added.

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