From The Editor | December 2, 2010

Healthcare Going Mobile

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By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes

Evidence has been emerging recently that illustrates the growing interest of wireless and mobile technologies in the healthcare sector. One example is data from mobile service provider Good Technology that shows healthcare as one of the top three industries leveraging Apple's iPad tablet (the financial and technology industries are the other two). Healthcare accounts for 10% of Good Technology's iPad activations to date and this activity suggests that they industry is embracing the iPad for data access at the point of care, as well as other mission-critical tasks.

I first explored the viability of the iPad in healthcare in an article I wrote on June 30 of this year titled iPhone Versus iPad In Healthcare. In that article, the form factor of the iPad was identified as a key feature that would make the device an attractive solution for medical facilities. And, after a little over 5 months on the market, form factor does appear to be the main driving force behind iPad adoption in healthcare. In many cases, other mobile devices were too heavy or bulky, didn't have the battery life to provide a sufficient point-of-care computing solution, or the screen size of the device was too small. Many healthcare facilities are finding the iPad addresses all of these shortcomings. For example, earlier this year, Healthcare IT News reported that Kaweah Delta Health Care District in Visalia, CA is issuing 100 iPads to various healthcare workers. In some instances, the hospital is replacing computers on wheels (COWs) with the devices.

While the iPad may address the form factor and power requirements of healthcare facilities, that doesn't mean the device is without its shortcomings. Most notably, there are some potentially serious security risks that come with using an iPad to access and upload clinical data. You'll want to make sure you are aware of these risks and can address them before adopting the platform. Furthermore, the iPad is not a rugged device and may be unable to withstand the usage and sterilization demands encountered in a healthcare environment. If nothing else, the iPad has forced competitors to be more innovative in the capabilities and design of their platforms. Similar tablets are now emerging on the market that may similar to the iPad in form factor and address your security and ruggedness requirements as well. Evaluate all of these options carefully before selecting a mobile solution.

More recent news that illustrates increased mobile activity in the healthcare sector is AT&T's formation of a division specifically geared toward health information technology. The new division, called AT&T ForHealth, will focus on the development and delivery of health IT solutions including telehealth, cloud computing, and wireless monitoring devices. The company estimates the health IT market to be worth $34 billion and said it generated approximately $4 billion in revenue from its health care industry business in 2009. The company wants to tap further into this market that is predicted to grow 24% during the next four years and is dedicating the resources necessary to make a more significant impact in the sector.

In addition to offering mobile solutions for point-of-care data access (including cellular service for the iPad and iPhone), AT&T will focus more resources toward developing wireless monitoring devices. The New England Healthcare Institute estimates that these types of home monitoring and mobile disease management technologies could save the healthcare industry $4.7 billion to $6.7 billion each year. With potential cost savings like these, I think we can expect the interest in healthcare mobilization to continue for years to come.

Ken Congdon is Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes. He can be reached at