Going with BYOD? An expert offers 5 suggestions

From the mHealthNews archive
By Benjamin Harris

With mobile devices firmly ensconced in the medical landscape, the conversation centers on the proper place for smartphones, tablets and laptops. One element to this discussion is the role of BYOD, a practice common in many industries where employees use personal devices in the workplace. BYOD can be cost-effective and time-saving, but the security and stability required by medical applications pose tough questions for any healthcare organization pondering this option.

Brent Lang, president and COO of Vocera, suggests some touchstones of a smart BYOD policy.

1. Have a strategy. The best way to meet the many trials of BYOD head-on, Lang says, is to define the boundaries of a policy and what issues they may encounter. Because mobile devices are a reality and because they will be used, he says, hospitals need to "create a strategy around multiple devices, don't just take a passive role around that." In addition to the way that communications technology has changed over time, so have the layout and ways that hospitals operate, he adds. "Clearly, mobility is a huge movement within the healthcare environment," he says, pointing out that hospitals are moving away from the "classic hub and spoke" design and that they stand to lose money and efficiency by not adapting to the newer ways that personnel move and operate.

2. Understand the real costs. Welcoming mobile devices in to the workplace provides a remarkable amount of functionality in a convenient form factor. When (almost) everyone has a smartphone, it may seem like a more cost-effective option to rely on an employee's personal device instead of buying them outright. But Lang says the issue is a little more nuanced. BYOD entails a lot of work on the network side, and providing a stable and secure arena in which these devices can get along and thrive may entail more of a payout than imagined. "The increase in IT costs associated with managing those divides both from a content and security perspective, getting them on the network, the whole HIPAA security piece ... there's going to be an increased cost," he says.

3. Work out reimbursement. Another aspect to consider is the thorny issue of reimbursement. "Employees may expect some reimbursement" on anything from the device itself to the data plan, says Lang. In some cases, he says, reimbursement may be justified. "If there's an expectation in an organization that you're going to always be reachable and accessible as part of a critical workflow, then the organization is going to provide that device," he says. He also makes the point that when an organization relies on mobile devices, they can't rely on BYOD as an absolute. "You can't expect something to work if you're relying on BYOD," he says.

4. Say goodbye to standards. With multiple platforms and a plethora of devices, the playing field is uneven when it comes to smartphones – to say nothing of the different types of devices: smartphone, tablet, somewhere in between (think iPad Mini). This cornucopia of tech presents some complicated problems for hospitals from a development standpoint. A workflow that accommodates most devices can't rely on too much standardization from one device to another. "In the communications realm it's much more complicated. ... Their standardization goes beyond UI," says Lang, who cautions that the differences between Android and iOS run deeper than just the layout of an app or the home screen design. "You have to deal with the acoustics of the device. What's the roaming capability? With a real-time app like voice, voice communications require continuous real-time connectivity."

5. Workflow, workflow, workflow. While mobile devices are seen as both a godsend and an albatross, few would deny they're here to stay in the clinical environment. If an organization decides to go the BYOD route, Lang says the workflow needs to accommodate as much as possible. "Create a workflow that is independent of the device," he says, stressing that staying platform-agnostic is the smartest and most robust thing to do when developing a mobile device strategy. By keeping a set of procedures based around the methods of work and not the devices that do them, an organization can partially ensure that almost every device will be able to share in the fun.

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