Healthcare System Uses Individual-Liable Mobile Device Policy

By  Martha Walz — May 17, 2011

Munson Healthcare, Traverse City, Mich., is a regional, non-profit healthcare system with seven hospitals located throughout northern Michigan. All told, Munson is comprised of 5,000 total employees.
 
Joe Dechow, manager, IS Infrastructure, is in charge of the mobile devices across the entire healthcare system. Several years ago, Dechow and his team switched the healthcare system from a corporate-liable (CL) device policy to individual-liable (IL).
 
“We put this policy in place several years ago in order to be compliant with the IRS as well as to place controls on cell phones,” Dechow explains. “There were abuse issues, a lack of responsibility, and the costs were getting quite out of hand. And that was prior to widespread adoption of wireless in our area or having smartphones with much capability.”
 
Dechow and his team manage 450+ cell phones, about 150 of which are smartphones. “The devices are used by a wide variety of staff in nearly every area,” Dechow explains. “The need is general, based on the job duties of the person and how important it is to keep them in close contact. Since many of our staff have duties at more than one location, this becomes pretty critical.”
 
A strict approval process is in place for anyone who wants their personal phone to be corporately subsidized. “Anyone that believes they should have one assigned has to petition their chain of command for it based on need, and an administrative level person must approve (VP or better),” says Dechow. Due to funding restrictions, these requests are not always granted. However, once approval has been granted, users have to sign agreements regarding expectations and reimbursement costs.
 
“A person also has to agree to and sign a service level agreement (SLA) that binds them to the expectations and to their financial share of the cost,” says Dechow. “They are required to pay their share via payroll deduction so there is minimal paperwork and never any gap in payment.”
 
Deployment details
Dechow chose to standardize on one device for their IL program: the iPhone. “They were, in most cases, what the employees wanted,” says Dechow. “Most folks use them for corporate e-mail, IT staff do some remote monitoring with them.”
 
Although the smartphones are only used for basic business processes now, Dechow sees their use expanding in the future. “We are intently waiting for electronic medical records (EMR) systems…to provide more applications that are optimized for smartphones and tablets as well. We predict that there will be a major push on them when this becomes ubiquitous.”
 
Dechow and his team do not use a mobile device management (MDM) solution to manage the smartphones because their use is so basic. “We will likely get into this space when the use of the device becomes more common with the EMRs or other applications that touch upon protected information,” he says.
 
Dechow’s advice for transitioning to an IL plan? Put clear policies in place including SLAs, get corporate buy-in, and automate as much of the process as possible.
 
“Get clear and full buy-in from the executive level,” Dechow says. “Even our VPs have to get a signature from their boss, the CXO they report to. And the CXO folks even sign the SLA.”
 
Also ensure that the person that handles the billing is well-trained. “We all know how accurate any kind of phone bill is (read: it never is right, and you have to monitor the carriers as well as the users),” Dechow explains.
 
Looking to the future
When electronic medical records are optimized for mobile devices, Munson will likely turn to a MDM solution for security reasons. “We have to be careful to do it in such a way that we are protecting our interests,” Dechow explains. “In our world it doesn’t matter if the device is owned by us, the individual, or a combination. We secure data and applications on our end, the device is just an access point. The only reason that a smartphone is more of a problem is they are easier to lose, and folks don’t think they should have to put strong passcodes on them. We worry a heck of a lot more about notebooks computers and zip drives.”
 
What does Dechow see for the future of mobility in healthcare? “The cost pressures and mobility needs of people who work in [the healthcare field] are colliding,” he says. “I haven’t seen a lot of applications that are really designed to work on the small form factor yet that providers are happy with, but it feels like only a matter of time and this will catch up. And when it does, we will truly see this space change.”

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