Why physicians should buy their own mobile devices

Deaconess Health System CIO Todd RichardsonShould you buy your medical staff smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices, or let them use their own devices for work? It's a dilemma most CIOs are facing now, with little long-term experience to guide them.

FierceMobileHealthcare spoke with two IT executives on opposite sides of this argument, both with reasonable solutions. This week, you'll hear why Todd Richardson, CIO with Deaconess Health System, Evansville, Ind., lets physicians use their personal devices for work. Richardson (pictured) spoke on the issue at the World Congress Leadership Summit on mHealth in Boston last week, and later explained to me the ins and outs of his policy.

His theory: Don't get involved in choosing the mobile hardware, or even software, that physicians will use. It's a losing battle. His mobile development strategy is completely device-agnostic, he says, and for several very pragmatic reasons, including:

Constantly changing technology: New devices are constantly coming on the market, and updates are released every few months for the core platforms, making it impossible to keep a fleet of mobile devices completely up to date, Richardson says.

"There are so many different iterations of the mobile technology," he adds. "It's a constant state of one-upsmanship that I can't afford. How does that make sense?"

Device management: Particularly with tablets, controlling such devices on a day-to-day basis would be time- and labor-intensive. IT would have to buy, maintain and service the devices, and find places to store them where physicians would have easy access as they came onto floors for rounds or appointments, Richardson explains.

Simple issues like whether tablets are kept on one floor, or whether physicians can pick them up in one area and drop them off somewhere else, become major policy problems. Even keeping the tablets charged, and providing docking stations for data entry, if needed, is a hassle he says he just doesn't need.

Ownership issues: Even if the hospital owns the mobile device, you won't be able to stop users from downloading their own apps or other software. And if the physician ever leaves the hospital, who owns the items on the device? It's a question Richardson says he prefers to avoid.

Instead, Richardson says, allow physicians to own the devices and load them up with whatever apps and software they like. If you keep your patient data segregated, he adds, it shouldn't matter. Deaconess uses Citrix to allow any device to access the EHR, and provides a secured, wireless SSID to provide partitioned access to the hospital's EHR. For security reasons, the hospital requires physicians to register their devices' MAC address in order to get access to the network.

"We just believe, particularly with tablets, that these are personal devices," Richardson says. "It belongs to the doctor. We'll support it through Citrix, but it belongs to [the physician.]"

Better maintenance: If doctors own the devices, they're more likely to take care of them, Richardson maintains. It puts all the nitty-gritty maintenance issues on the physicians--charging, cleaning, storing, and protecting the devices from mishaps. "If it's yours, you're more likely to take care of it," he says. "You won't leave it in the ICU."

Editor's note: Look for the flip side of the argument next week from Dale Potter, whose mammoth 2,000-plus rollout of iPads at the Ottowa Hospital in Toronto, Canada, is a case study in hospital ownership of physician work tools. Potter has purchased every one of the tablets being used in his facility, and likes it that way.