BYOD: The elephant in the room

The Wikipedia definition of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is "The recent trend of employees bringing personally owned mobile devices to their place of work, and using those devices to access privileged company resources such as email, file servers and databases. Some prefer the term Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), because it is a broader description [that] not only covers the hardware device[s], but also the software used on the device."

This phenomenon is not unique to healthcare. In one recent study, Cisco found that 95 percent of surveyed companies allow BYODs in the workplace. It also revealed that 76 percent said BYOD was both somewhat or extremely positive for their companies and challenging for their IT departments.

Healthcare, however, because of regulatory issues including HIPAA as well as patient safety concerns, presents unique challenges in this regard. A recent HIMSS survey of hospital executives found that 85 percent of 130 hospitals embrace BYOD; 83 percent support the use of Apple iPads on the network; 58 percent currently or plan to use desktop virtualization solutions for hospital app use; 45 percent said they would use either homegrown or third-party apps; and 60 percent are supporting mobile EHR apps.

A majority of nurses, physicians, medical students and others use mobile devices for professional reasons, mainly as educational resources. Younger healthcare providers are using medical apps at a faster rate than older ones; however, the vast majority of physicians use smart phones even without using mobile apps, which present BYOD issues just the same. Mobile apps will become an increasing source of medical education, office and hospital management, and patient evaluation and treatment.

An excellent recent review of issues involved in BYOD highlights companies such as IBM and Sybase, which address the issue with proprietary software support. Most medical offices and institutions cannot provide this kind of support. Other ways of dealing with the BYOD problem are necessary. Earlier this year, the West Wireless Health Institute established the West Wireless Health Council to address the issue of BYOD. The result has been the remarkable creation of a medical-grade wireless open framework, which essentially creates a utility out of wireless. The technology is in pilot testing and has the potential to solve the BYOD problem at no cost.

While BYOD presents many challenges unique to healthcare, the increasing importance of mobile devices is clear. Patient confidence in healthcare hinges significantly on the faith the public has in the security of healthcare IT tools of any sort. We must confront this big elephant in the room, and quickly. The rate of adoption of medical apps, the expansion of healthcare IT connectivity and the rapidly increasing amount of data being produced mandate it.

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