Whether it is a paramedic using their wireless device to send patient information to a hospital, or a home care worker downloading a health chart before visiting a client, mobile devices are integral parts of modern health care.
However, we must also ensure that we use those devices wisely, and that AHS – and therefore, Alberta taxpayers – are being charged for use that is directly related to work within Alberta Health Services.
We recently became aware that as an organization, we accrued an unacceptable amount of mobile device charges – over an 18-month period, for cell phone bills that were over $500, there were hundreds of devices involved and the cost was $825,000, some of it roaming charges.
That simply should not be happening. While almost three quarters of those AHS staff members with bills in excess of $500 were involved in direct clinical work, many were not.
It is unacceptable for AHS to be paying for significant monthly charges like this, and we have taken steps to prevent that from happening again.
On February 4, we rolled out a stringent new mobile device policy across our organization. We are working to reach every AHS staff member who uses mobile devices to help them understand their appropriate usage, in an effort to reduce these costs. The rules are now clear.
For example, under this new policy, international roaming will be disabled by default and staff will need to request special roaming packages when they travel for work. In addition, the approval process for who gets a mobile device – and what kind of mobile device – requires executive approval.
We will also be working with mobile service providers to develop more comprehensive billing practices that better suit the needs of an organization like AHS.
Later this year, AHS will post a Request for Proposals which will include features which would allow individuals to access their own bills to monitor what they are doing and provide the organization with a better ability to track mobile usage.
In all of these changes we are making to be more efficient in how we do business, we will not compromise the care we provide to Albertans. We will continue to make sure our staff has access to the tools that will best support them in doing their jobs, and in delivering high-quality care in every corner of this province.
What is important to understand, however, is that the mobile device charges being discussed include more than just cell phone roaming.
Some of our highest mobile charges are incurred by frontline health care teams who provide mobile health care.
Most of the usage charges by individuals are for mobile devices used to support patient care. In many physician cases, mobile devices are used to aid in uninterrupted care for their patients – especially in specialty areas, as they travel out of the country.
If a physician needs to urgently review a patient chart, and the only way to do that is to have them download it on their mobile device, then we have to ensure that can happen.
In fact, the highest usage charge identified is a world-renowned physician who performs heart transplants for infants. This physician regularly travels internationally as an AHS representative, providing consultation that inevitably saves lives.
Often, this consultation work is done via mobile phone, providing guidance to hospitals around the world. This physician had a roaming package in place, but with the amount of work required, the package was not sufficient. That has since been rectified.
Other examples include the wireless computers that EMS workers use to transmit data – these are included in the information recently released, but are obviously appropriate and necessary.
Also included are the tablets used to access and transmit patient information by Home Care workers as they visit patients in their homes all across the province. And, so is the mobile mammography truck that provides access to breast cancer screening exams in rural communities in Alberta.
Between Home Care, community care and mental health staff there are approximately 4,000 cell phones and mobile devices in use every day. EMS teams also have more than 3,900 cell phones and mobile devices.
All of those services – and many others critical to frontline health care – use wireless technology. And all of those contribute to our overall mobile device bill.
However, it is also clear that some of our charges are related to inappropriate use of an AHS mobile device. That has to stop.