As the digital revolution spawns higher levels of mobility, more and more physicians are joining the ranks and bringing their own mobile devices into hospital settings. Physician attachment to mobile devices was highlighted in a study released in May by Manhattan Research, which reported that 75 percent of American doctors own devices such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod.

No one disputes the ability of such devices to boost physician productivity. However, hospitals face challenges in managing the use of these devices in a way that will accommodate physicians and, at the same time, prevent problems related to privacy, security and infection control.

Joel Weinshank, director of the health care market at BoxTone, a mobility management firm, cites a study released in September by the Health Research Institute at PricewaterhouseCoopers showing that a majority of health organizations are underprepared to protect patient privacy and secure data as new uses for digital health information emerge.

"Physicians are finding ways to connect their devices without the permission of [hospital] IT [staff], or with the implicit permission of some people in it, and that's dangerous," Weinshank says.

Hospitals must enact policies on what devices they will allow to connect to their networks and how they will support and manage the security of those devices, Weinshank says.

Bill Crounse, M.D., senior director of worldwide health at Microsoft Corp., says hospital CIOs "need to take a more proactive stance. They should get out in front of the curve and help educate clinicians — not only in helping them select the right consumer devices, but also providing some guidelines and recommendations on what devices would be best to bring into the hospital."

Brian Patty, M.D., vice president and chief medical informatics officer for HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, Minn., says his system has taken steps to prevent mobile device-related problems.

For example, the IT network allows physicians to plug in their iPads and laptops in a manner that protects network security. "Their device is acting like a thin client. When they disconnect, the patient information stays on the server. Nothing stays on that laptop.

"We try to be very proactive and put solutions out there that are device- and platform-independent," Patty says. "We don't really have to tell physicians, 'You have to have this," or 'You have to have that.' If you can connect to the Internet, you can connect to our system."