BYOD mobile app strategy improves healthcare quality

To reach quality goals for Emory's large university and healthcare system, IT works with many stakeholders for the best results.

SAN DIEGO – A diverse, wide-ranging mobile app strategy is helping one large healthcare and educational organization reach quality goals -- and save lives.

Bringing mobile apps to both internal and external users involves numerous organizational stakeholders reviewing the full process -- from conception to execution -- to achieve the best results, said Stephen Wheat, chief IT architect at Emory University and Emory Healthcare during a session here at the Gartner Catalyst Conference this week.

The university and the healthcare system designed a whole new mobile app strategy two years ago to provide users with mobile capabilities to benefit each organization.

"We wanted to establish a process for identifying how mobile apps advance Emory's quality goals," Wheat said. "Emory decided, 'We are going to invest in mobile apps for quality reasons.'"

The mobile environment at Emory includes as many as 24,000 devices for 15,000 students and 28,000 employees on its network at any given time, and nearly all are BYOD.

While some institutionally-owned Emory devices are managed using AirWatch by VMware, user-owned devices utilize mobile application management (MAM) and a curated internal app store Emory gets from Apperian Inc. of Boston. Through Apperian, Emory applies MAM policies to internal apps downloaded from the app store.

Emory decided, 'we are going to invest in mobile apps for quality reasons.'
Stephen WheatChief IT architect, Emory University and Healthcare

Before getting MAM a couple years ago, Emory's app development process could be a tedious one.

"We literally had people chasing down busy surgeons to plug their phone into the developer's Notebook to get a beta version of an app," Wheat said. "For scheduling reasons and technology reasons, that just doesn't work."

The new process, which includes MAM and ways to identify whether apps should be developed internally, externally or bought from a third party, has led to an Emory-sanctioned app portfolio of 60 applications. Emory has grown from two to 18 internally-developed apps in the last two years, Wheat said.

Emory created Emory Healthcare Mobile for Clinicians, a protocol app that delivers patient information. A Massive Transfusion Protocol app connects trauma surgeons at the Emory-affiliated Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta with information about trauma patients that determine if they'd benefit from a blood transfusion. Another app helps surgeons with protocols around transplants, and another provides emergency and safety codes for Emory employees.

Budgets, review process impact app delivery

In Emory's budgetary environment, getting funding to build or buy a mobile app isn't always easy. Often, big-ticket items for either the university or the healthcare system are prioritized over smaller-scale items like mobile apps, Wheat said.

As such, the IT department helps other Emory departments come up with cost estimates for apps, but that doesn't always lead to application development.

"We may need to do [cost estimates] 20 times for every one [app] that gets funded," Wheat said. "It creates an interesting challenge on our end to provide accurate, useful and meaningful estimates."

When an app gets funding to be developed or purchased by Emory, there are still numerous steps to clear before it gets in the hands of users. Emory's external apps go through a review process by many departments, including legal, compliance, marketing and communications, information security and central IT before submissions to public app stores, Wheat said.

Internal apps don't go through as many steps as external ones, but still need regulatory and compliance reviews as well as information security clearance before being added to Emory's Apperian app catalog. While the review and approval process can be lengthy, it also serves the purpose of getting numerous organizational entities at Emory on board with adopting mobile apps, Wheat said.

"[These stakeholders] are talking about this all the time and it's helping us adopt the process," Wheat said. "We've got a lot of people involved and we've got these forums to have these discussions."

The Apperian app store allows all Emory users to at least browse through the catalog of apps, even though not all users can receive permission to use all apps. However, there is value a liberal arts college professor at Emory seeing the transfusion app, Wheat said.

"We want them to see what's going on," Wheat said. "It creates the opportunity for collaboration."

Jake O'Donnell is site editor for Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @JakeODonnell_TT.

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