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Personal Tech-Wielding Docs Challenge IT Leaders

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, July 12, 2012

Stead knows that physicians can be tempted to use the inherent photo-taking and messaging capabilities of their devices to easily ask for a specialist's opinion directly through texting or photo multimedia messaging services.

"We do have policies that basically say you're not supposed to move protected health information or research health information outside of our secure messaging environment," Stead says. That environment "provides easy tools to communicate both within the Vanderbilt team and to push stuff to the referring providers."

Failing that, Stead's IT infrastructure monitors "for things that appear to have PHI leaving the network, and we spot-audit those, and we use those to identify all sorts of problems," he says. Still, "there are pieces of it we can identify and pieces of it we can't." An example of the latter: communications going from one Verizon network device to another, which never touch the Vanderbilt network.

As for whether BYOD will lower Vanderbilt's capital IT equipment costs, "I think we're going to move to some sort of a communication allowance that will allow people to have whatever they want to have and have us pay some reasonable amount," Stead says. "That's not yet in place. Of the many things we talk about, that seems to be the most likely."

BYOD users also appreciate being able to choose their own tech support provider, says Mark Farrow, vice president and chief information officer at Hamilton Health Sciences, a six-hospital organization based  in Hamilton, Ontario. "They're happier to work with those people than they were to necessarily have us messing with their devices," Farrow says.

Outside the hospital walls, physicians' devices, with data protected by virtualization technology, can boost happiness in other ways. Farrow recalls when a physician had just stopped on his way home to pick up a hot meal for his family. "His phone rings, and it was a nursing station calling him saying there was an issue with one of his patients, and they needed to know what to do," he says.

The physician was able to pull up the patient's EMR on his iPad, then call back the nursing unit and give them the instructions they needed.

"A few years back, it would have meant a trip back to the hospital, going through the charts, making the change, and then going home," Farrow says. "It could have cost him an hour or so and a cold dinner."

Even El Camino's Walton sees the writing on the wall. "I agree BYOD is inevitable, but this will be a space where, again, healthcare will lag," he says. "Just because we lag, doesn't mean we don't understand why other sectors are rushing toward it. For healthcare, the lag might come in some cases from unions. In others it will be fear of the employer peeking at private data. In other cases it will be that many more IT priorities are higher. In some it will be hard to find the ROI."

Walton says El Camino Hospital "is ready now from a technology standpoint but … given some of the reasons I just cited we won't be setting any speed records going on that journey."


This article appears in the June 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Reprint HLR0612-7

 


Scott Mace is senior technology editor at HealthLeaders Media.
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