Mobile technologies in the healthcare space have had tremendous impacts on almost every aspect of the industry, ranging from nurse communication to non-emergency transportation to remote monitoring.
A large driver of this innovation comes from the smartphone and mobile app market, which has experienced massive growth since the launch of the iPhone. While the early focus for software and applications was dominated by consumer-focused applications, in the past few years the more forward-looking healthcare technology companies have identified opportunities to embrace the mobile platform to help lower costs, improve overall patient care, streamline communications, lower readmittance, and more.
While the mobile-focused healthcare space as a whole is still maturing, one of the most popular early strategies for bringing a new mobile healthcare product to market has been to adopt the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) model. There are definitely some advantages to going this route, but there are also some significant hidden costs that healthcare software vendors should consider when evaluating different options. In this post, we’ll outline these hidden costs, and evaluate some alternatives to consider.
What does BYOD mean anyways?
BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, is simply the idea of having an app that is meant to be utilized on an end-users’ device. Examples of end-users in the healthcare space include patients, doctors, nurses, or even support staff (e.g. caregivers, or transportation).
The Costs of BYOD in Healthcare
There tends to be a perception in the market that BYOD is the cheapest and easiest option for going to market with a mobile-focused healthcare product. In some ways, this is true; you don’t have to deal with hardware, delivery and logistics costs don’t exist, and there’s a large existing population of people who already have a device and simply need to download the app.
While these all seem like no-brainers on the surface, there are also a number of hidden costs to the BYOD model that companies often don’t realize until they are past the point of no return. Below are the top four hidden costs to be aware of when considering going BYOD.
Support costs can rack up a bill in any organization, but this is especially true for companies in the healthcare space. There are two key areas related to BYOD that significantly drive up support costs. The first is the increased number of requests caused by users not being on the most updated version of the app. There’s no such thing as perfect software, and development teams are constantly pushing updates to fix bugs. These bugs range from critical issues that may compromise security, to smaller issues that simply fix something in the UI. With the BYOD model, you almost always rely on the end-user to take initiative and update the app when a new version is available. So what happens when a user on an older app version experiences an issue (even one that’s already been fixed)? 99% of the time their first instinct isn’t to update the app, it’s to contact support, which takes up your team’s time and resources to help troubleshoot.
The second cost driver related to support is user on-boarding and setup—especially with an elderly patient base. In 2016, people age 55 and up accounted for over half of total healthcare spending. Getting a less-technologically advanced population to both download an app and understand how to use it is challenging and time-consuming. This means companies either miss out on a large part of the population requiring their healthcare services, or they have to invest significant resources in helping onboard and support new users.
2. Development Hours
Engineers and software developers’ time is extremely expensive. In an ideal world, a development team is able to spend the majority of their time building and shipping new features. The biggest issue with the BYOD model is that companies need to make sure their app works across all the different devices and OS variations that are available in the consumer world. Every change in screen size, operating system, or even the OS version that an app needs to be compatible with increases the time it takes to build and test new features. It also opens the door for more support issues and time spent fixing broken features.
Overall, this means that some of your highest-paid employees are taking longer to ship new features, and spending a significant portion of their time just testing and fixing instead of building. Many companies don’t identify this as an added cost because it is a standard responsibility of most mobile development teams’ processes. But remember, most mobile dev teams are building software focused on the general consumer market with applications like games, shopping, entertainment, etc. In healthcare, dev teams are dealing with a specific audience’s use case, and there are some interesting alternative options to BYOD that can significantly increase a team’s efficiency and output. Check out our white paper to compare the pros and cons of different options side-by-side.
3. Technical Debt
As touched on above, one of the biggest challenges with building apps for the BYOD model is all the different hardware and operating system combinations that companies need to account for in development. One of the more popular ways to get around this is by using a cross-platform framework like React Native, Xamarin, Ionic, etc. While this can save loads of upfront development and testing time, it can also be a driver of technical debt in the long run. These frameworks are geared for the consumer world and therefore focus on supporting all the newest devices and OS features. However, for the enterprise use cases, and healthcare specifically, companies often need to continue to support older devices and operating system versions (again, remember that the end-user is often less technologically savvy and does not update their mobile device as often). When cross-platform frameworks stop supporting older devices or OS versions, it becomes almost impossible to release new features without completely re-writing the application.
4. Security, Liability, and Productivity
One of the more popular scenarios for BYOD devices in healthcare is for nurses and care providers. Use cases range from critical communication applications to emergency alert mechanisms, to fleet management for non-emergency transportation. While in this case, simply downloading an app can be convenient for the end-user, anytime a healthcare professional is using their personal device it opens up huge risks for security and liability, especially related to patient PHI. These increased risks add a number of hidden costs, such as the IT time and resources required to set up and support the proper infrastructure and data protection policies. On top of that, there is often also additional insurance that needs to be purchased to cover any potential liabilities, the time needed to conduct regular trainings and policy updates, and the lost productivity caused by non-work apps being so readily present on the devices.
To BYOD, or not to BYOD?
There are dozens of factors you’ll want to consider when deciding whether or not to go the BYOD route. Stay tuned as we’ll be posting a series of blog posts to provide more helpful information on how to pick the best mobile infrastructure for your business. Hopefully, this post outlined a few factors you may not have considered when weighing different options. If you have any feedback, questions, or additions, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below!