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What BYOD means for mHealth

I’m writing this week about ‘BYOD’ – Bring Your Own Device – and what it means for mHealth. A few weeks ago I wrote about ‘medicine in the cloud’ and how the cloud computing concept could be applied to the virtualisation of medical resources. BYOD can be similarly helpful in making best use of scarce resources.

Bring your own device mhealth

What is BYOD anyway?

BYOD has been a common theme over the last few years, and generally refers to employees (often the younger age groups), wishing to use their personal smartphone, tablet or laptop at work. Apart from fashion and attachment this has been driven by a desire to consolidate on one device, and a recognition that the boundaries between work and social are more blurred. It’s a concept that has provoked agony amongst IT departments all over the world, who have either tried to resist or limit the trend, rather than allow what they would see as anarchy and loss of control. Latterly as smart management tools like MobileIron and AirWatch have emerged, IT departments have become a little more comfortable.

How’s that relevant to healthcare?

I believe that BYOD is a genie we can’t put back in the bottle – so what will it mean for healthcare? I think it has significant impact for the two most important stakeholders, and here’s why:


If you look at the technology that our clinicians are provided with by their employers, and the technology they acquire for themselves, it’s a generational gulf. Typically clinicians are lucky if their employers provide access to a desktop and the internet, let alone laptops, tablet and smartphones (I even saw a spirited defence of the continued use of pagers this week which left me speechless).

Yet those same clinicians go and buy their own iPhones and iPads, partly because they’re human and like all the stuff we do, but partly because they need mobile access to their work email and medical reference websites when they’re on the move. So if this is the case, their employers shouldn’t worry about providing a hardware upgrade, they just need to enable the clinicians’ access to their core services, such as internal email, EMRs and referral systems from any device. This will be cheaper financially and also boost productivity. Security can be managed now, so why not just get on with it – as Bruce Eckert of Beacon Partners commented this week “It’s about time that clinicians are recognized as mobile workers“.


The fact that mobile devices are reaching ubiquity in the target population is surely the whole point of mHealth – let’s use the channel that everyone has and holds close to them. So why have we made it so difficult for them to use their own device?

  • Instead of interacting with clinical trials and long-term condition patients with a simple diary on their phone, we’re still giving them paper diaries which are virtually useless.
  • Medtech companies are building all sorts of smart devices which communicate invisibly in the background, but forget that the patient is also carrying a smart device which can be used to add depth and compliance to the therapy.
  • App builders and mHealth technology companies have been equally culpable in building device and platform-specific services, rather than acknowledging real-world diversity.

Why not embrace the choice and preferences that patients enjoy, and offer them services that work across platforms? Please don’t think this means that your service will be inferior – it will probably be simpler which turns out to be a strength in mHealth.

Plan for BYOD

So if BYOD in healthcare is both inevitable and desirable, what do those of you creating mHealth services need to do next? Here’s a few simple suggestions:

1)    Stop building services that only work on one device – it’s implicit in BYOD that I’m bringing my own device, not the one you prefer. So deal with it.

2)    Take advantage of this trend and remove device costs from your rollout budget – people just don’t need them. Often these will be the biggest element if you let them, so think how much better your business case will be once you take a red pen to it.

3)    For IT departments, get comfortable with BYOD and opening up your core IT systems to heterogeneous device access. If you haven’t started deploying mobile device management tools you need to start now.

The benefits from BYOD, like ‘medicine in the cloud’, can be massive. These concepts are not just for the geeks either, so let’s make them our own. As usual I’d love to hear your thoughts – or you can always contact me.

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