5 ways to succeed at BYOD

No, it's not a party invite: how to let successfully allow employees bring their own device to work
By Benjamin Harris
06:57 PM

To say that mobile devices are firmly ensconced in the medical landscape is an understatement at best. Still, the conversation rages on about the proper place for smartphones, tablets and laptops. One element to this discussion is the role of BYOD. This sounds like something that should be on a party invitation, but it stands for "Bring Your Own Device," and it is a practice common in many industries where employees use their personal mobile devices in the workplace. BYOD can be cost-effective and time-saving in many settings, but 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, 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 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 says that hospitals need to "create a strategy around multiple devices, don't just take a passive role around that." Lang notes that in addition to the way that communications technology has changed over time, so have the layout and ways that hospitals operate. "Clearly, mobility is a huge movement within the healthcare environment," Lang says, pointing out that hospitals are moving away from the "classic hub and spoke" design, and that hospitals 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 employees personal devices instead of buying them outright. Lang says 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 that 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 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 plan that feeds it with data, says Lang. He says that in some cases reimbursement is justified, and in others it is not. "If there's an expectation in an organization that you're going to always reachable and accessible as part of a critical workflow, then the organization is going to provide that device," he says. Lang 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 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). This cornucopia of tech presents some complicated problems for hospitals from a development side. Creating and sustaining a workflow that accommodates most devices can not 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 realtime app like voice, voice communications require continuous realtime connectivity." 

5. Workflow, workflow, workflow. While mobile devices are seen as both a godsend and an albatross around the neck, few would deny that they're 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 says that the workflow around them 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.