Hospital Impact: How to make mobile work possible in health IT

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While significant security challenges are associated with mobile work by health IT professionals, taking appropriate precautions can mitigate these issues.

Mobile work is becoming more and more popular. In fact, 52% of employees surveyed by Workfront expect the majority of employees to work remotely in the next few years. While you would expect tech companies and professionals to lead the charge in this digital workplace revolution, mobile work is particularly challenging for one sector: health IT.

Mobile work is riskier than remote work in that employees are accessing data from any device, at any time, using any network, and for health IT, that means a lot more can go wrong. Health IT is complicated, and professionals in this space face unique roadblocks and legislation when it comes to the way they work. But as technology improves and mobile work becomes more widespread, is mobile work possible for health IT? Is the industry any closer?

Here’s a look at the main issues holding health IT back from mobile work, and what must be done to overcome them:

The cost

While mobile work is more cost-effective than running a full-fledged office, it’s still not free. A recent report from iPass found that remote and on-the-go workers often rely on free Wi-Fi to complete their work. And while free may sound great, these connections aren’t always the best. Weak and lost connections means lost productivity, and in the ever-busy world of health IT, lost time is costly. 

What’s more, the report found that workers use 760 MB of data per workday, on average. However, IT employees use more data than the average worker—especially if they make conference or video calls with clients or co-workers through online platforms. More data means more money, and that’s a cost that employees will expect the company to cover.

So while going mobile, in theory, is less costly than running a traditional office, health IT companies aren’t likely to shut down their offices. Any costs related to mobile work are in addition to those of the traditional office. They’re not saving anything for the convenience on paper.

It’s a cost that individual employers will need to determine is valuable for other reasons. For some, the cost of mobile work may be worth the improved productivity. After all, a survey conducted this year by FlexJobs found that only 7% of workers say the office is their location of choice if they need to be most productive on important work-related projects.

Overall, cost isn’t a huge obstacle to mobile work in health IT, but it’s a factor to consider before making a final decision.

The security risks

Cost is actually a small concern to health IT employers compared with the security risks that come with mobile work. In the iPass report, mobile workers said they use a variety of devices to complete work including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

But so many personal devices in the mix makes it easier for information leaks, data breaches and other security problems. And in health IT, where employees are constantly handling sensitive patient information, security is critically important.

Security breaches don’t just mean HIPAA violations and other potential legal ramifications. It could also lead to loss of clients and a loss of credibility in the industry. It’s a huge risk. So it’s understandable that health IT companies are hesitant to make their work mobile—especially when so many mobile workers rely on free, unsecure internet connections.

The following are some important precautions to take:

Train employees on security policies and procedures: While your team members probably already understand that security is important, they may not understand the dire ramifications of a breach. Host required training events for employees to gather information on your policies, learn procedures and listen to examples of what happens when security isn’t as tight as needed.

Put these policies and procedures into action by setting up role-play scenarios. Give each employee a situation where there is a breach. They then have to quickly determine what caused the breach, how to correct the issue, whom to contact and how they could’ve prevented it.

Gamify the process: Technology is constantly changing, so ensuring employees are following proper procedures throughout the year is crucial. Checking in with your team frequently is the only way to keep an accurate tab on how well security is holding up.

Set your team up with a fun competitive contest. Each employee is awarded a certain number of points when a security breach is avoided, caught or quickly fixed. This will help everyone stay accountable for their own security every day, while keeping it fun and rewarding to maintain security updates routinely.   

Provide company devices: Give your employees devices already set up with your standard security measures. This also gives you the right to collect the device for required safety check-ins and updates. Enable each of your devices to only connect through a safe, restricted server. This will restrict employees from working off of uncertified servers.

Not only will providing company devices secure your network, it’s also a positive incentive for hiring top talent. When new talent is incentivized to really work for a position, only the most qualified candidates who are willing to be held accountable when a company has control over their devices will make it to the hiring round.  

The scheduling complications

One of the main perks of mobile work is improved flexibility for employees. But in a high-touch industry like health IT, flexibility may mean that employees are no longer available to clients during traditional working hours to answer questions, troubleshoot and respond to requests.

For employees working unusual hours from a remote location, being available to client requests may mean working more hours. When working remotely, the line between work and home can easily get blurred, and employees can work more than they already do. As is, 55% of health IT professionals surveyed in The 2016 Health IT Stress Report from HealthITJobs.com said they are at least frequently or constantly stressed.

But at the same time, mobile work can help eliminate some of the factors that eat up time and stress out professionals. Employees spend less time in unnecessary meetings, chatting with coworkers and getting caught up in other workplace distractions.

Employers will need to find ways to balance employee and client needs for flexibility and mobile work. For example, some employees may prefer to work early hours, while others prefer to work in the afternoon and evening. Allowing these employees to work when they want will not only help to improve their flexibility, but it also means someone will be available to clients at any time. Alternatively, you can determine which times employees need to be available, or certain days of the week they need to work traditional hours.

While mobile work presents challenges to health IT employers, it’s a trend they can’t ignore for long. Despite the potential problems, remote working options are beneficial to employees, and it won’t be long before they become standard. Instead of focusing on the challenges, forward-thinking employers should look toward solutions to improve the business by making work better for employees.

Tim Cannon is the vice president of product management and marketing at HealthITJobs.com.