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This is a guest post by Chris Crowell, president and CEO of Enterasys.

The rate at which doctors are choosing to bring mobile devices to work continues to rise at an alarming rate. In fact, a recent study from Jackson & Coker found that four out of five physicians regularly use their mobile devices for medical purposes.

At the same time, patients and guests are also increasing their use of personal wireless devices in hospitals and healthcare facilities. While there are proven benefits in these situations, such as quicker access to patient records, the influx of devices also has some serious drawbacks.

Most often, those looking at the negatives are quick to point out patient privacy issues and the fact that patient information could be jeopardized. But a host of other concerns are also associated with this movement, such as the enormous burden it puts on the network and IT resources.

To help alleviate the side effects from the transition to mobile, hospital IT organizations across the globe are beginning to deploy bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies. In order to provide the flexible resources required to manage a comprehensive BYOD strategy that maintains costs, control, and security, IT must be prepared to face the following five issues head on.

Network support

A recent report from Spyglass Consulting Group found that 69 percent of surveyed hospital nurses use smartphones for personal and clinical communications while on the job. That, added to the statistic above about physicians, equals a huge strain on the hospital’s network.

With the influx of end-user devices accessing the hospital network comes the demand for consistent, reliable, and continuously available connectivity, especially on the hospital wireless LAN. Federal standards call for institutions to deploy a single network to handle the needs of the medical devices as well as provide a standard of interoperability for securing all data on the clinical wireless LAN. Moving forward, hospital IT professionals must explore next-generation networking solutions that are highly available, scalable, and ubiquitous.

Lost devices

If you work for a company where you’re given a mobile device, the assumption is that IT bears the responsibility for the tracking and replacement of those that go missing. Healthcare organizations must rethink this traditional model as more devices brought into the workplace are personally, not company, owned.

Mobile device management (MDM) of personal devices is something that has historically kept health IT professionals up, yet most are only doing the bare minimum at best to control it. There must be a balance in strategy that takes into account the need to be noninvasive, yet law abiding. When dealing with patient information, anything that contains data covered by HIPAA needs to be secured, and those devices need to be able to be wiped clean.

Mixing personal and professional use of mobile devices

In the near future, mobile computing devices in clinical environments will be just as common as they are in real life. Those devices will serve a dual purpose, as doctors and other professionals use the same mobile phone to call/text home as they do to access patient information.

We’re already hearing concerns from clinicians about BYOD around the loss of privacy for personal communications, the idea that personal devices may compromise professional behavior, and the concern that procedures may not be clear around professional vs. personal use on personal devices. BYOD in this environment requires a shift in culture that revolves around transparency. Without it, policy-makers and users will butt heads and neither side will achieve what they’re after.

Application deployment

Currently, there are more than 20,000 mHealth applications in the marketplace, and that number is growing across all mobile platforms. Most hospitals are using application layer firewall and unified threat management in order to deploy and monitor applications safely and securely, and remain in compliance with HIPAA.

These strategies have proved to be beneficial when it comes to personally owned devices. However, they also raise concerns about performance degradation and scalability. Deploying and supporting diverse applications can be troublesome, especially with the magnitude of devices involved. IT and the mobile workforce must have the same goal in mind — patient safety and protection. From there, they can put clear policies in place.

Ruggedized devices

Hospitals are not the safest place for a mobile device. There are fluids and other harsh operating conditions that can be challenging. The conditions are drastically different from those of a standard office. At the same time, it’s unlikely that clinicians have the safeguards in place to protect their devices from cross-contamination from hospital to hospital.

The question is, should the responsibility of the sanitation and hardening of the personal device fall on IT, or should the clinician assume responsibility when deciding to use their own device in the treatment of patients? This factor cannot be ignored when deploying a BYOD strategy.

Final thoughts

BYOD isn’t a passing fad. It’s here to stay, and organizations need to establish strategies and best practices to handle this ever-changing landscape. The organizations that successfully deploy BYOD initiatives have the ability to transform clinical workflows, streamline processes, improve physician access to information, and improve overall patient care.

Chris Crowell is President and CEO of Enterasys. He works with several healthcare organizations looking to expand WiFi for BYOD. Some notable customers include Henry Ford Health System and Western Maryland Health System.

Doctor using tablet via rangizzz/Shutterstock

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