What's the proper place within the healthcare landscape for smartphones, tablets and laptops? That discussion would not be complete without examination of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies and policies.
At present, mobile devices are firmly established within medicine, with recognition that BYOD can be cost-effective and time-saving in many settings. However, the security and stability required by medical applications pose many tough questions for any healthcare organization pondering this option. Brent Lang, president and COO of Vocera, offered the following touchstones of a smart BYOD policy.
1. Have a strategy. The best way to meet the many trials of BYOD head-on, Lang explained, is to define what the boundaries of policy will be, and what issues they may encounter. Because mobile devices are a reality, and because they will be used, Lang said healthcare organizations need to create a strategy around multiple devices: "Don't just take a passive role around that." Lang noted that communications technology has changed over time – and so have the layouts and ways that organizations operate. "Clearly, mobility is a huge movement within the healthcare environment," Lang said, 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 employees' personal devices instead of buying them outright. Lang cautioned that the issue is a little more nuanced than that. BYOD entails a lot of work on the network side, and providing a stable and secure arena in which all of those heterogeneous devices can get along and thrive in 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," Lang noted.
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 plan that feeds it with data, observed Lang. In some cases reimbursement is justified, and in others it is not. "If there's an expectation in an organization that you're always going to be reachable and accessible as part of a critical workflow, then the organization is going to provide that device," he said. Lang also pointed out that when an organization relies on mobile devices, it shouldn't rely on BYOD as an absolute. "You can't expect something to work if you're relying on BYOD," he said.
4. Say goodbye to standards. With multiple platforms available and a plethora of devices to be had, the playing field is uneven when it comes to smartphones. That's to say nothing of the different types of devices: smartphone, tablet, somewhere in between (think iPad Mini). All this technology presents some complicated problems for hospitals from a development side. Creating and sustaining a workflow that accommodates most devices cannot rely on too much standardization from one device to another. "In the communications realm it's much more complicated...their standardization goes beyond [the user interface]," said Lang, who added 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. A real-time app like voice communications requires continuous real-time connectivity," he added.
5. Concentrate on workflow. Few would deny that mobile devices are here to stay in the clinical environment. If an organization decides to go the BYOD route and allow people to bring their own mobile gadgets to do work on, Lang said that the workflow around them needs to be as accommodating as possible. "Create a workflow that is independent of the device," Lang advised, stressing that staying platform-agnostic is the smartest 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 contribute to overall success.