By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes
Healthcare professionals from medical facilities of all types and sizes are leveraging mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, at an alarming rate. This trend, combined with the recent rise of telehealth and wearable wireless medical devices, is pushing healthcare facilities throughout the U.S. to invest heavily in their Wi-Fi infrastructure. In fact, according to a recent ABI study titled, Wireless Technologies In Professional Healthcare, the analyst firm projects that the Wi-Fi industry (i.e. Wi-Fi access point hardware, software, and services) will grow to $1.3 billion by 2016. This projection is based on the recent spike in Wi-Fi activity among U.S. medical institutions. According to ABI, the Wi-Fi market grew 60% between 2009 and 2010, and will grow by nearly another 20% by the end of 2011.
Currently, Wi-Fi networks are leveraged by healthcare facilities largely for voice communications among staff members (Voice Over Wi-Fi), internal mobile device connectivity, and RTLS (real-time location systems). RTLS is used to track the flow, location, and condition of vital medical equipment and patients via a signal emitted from a Wi-Fi tag. Additionally, the wireless diagnostic sensor market is now beginning to emerge — driving increase demand for Wi-Fi capacity and coverage. Wireless diagnostic sensors are devices that leverage M2M (machine-to-machine) communication to help physicians manage chronic patient conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. These sensors are worn by the patient and the data can be automatically uploaded to the patient's EHR in real time. According to ABI, the wearable wireless sensor market alone is expected to top 100 million units annually by 2016.
4G Cellular Will Also Play A Big Role In Mobile Healthcare
The increased investment in Wi-Fi technologies is primarily geared toward providing a short-range wireless communication infrastructure inside the four walls of a healthcare facility, or throughout several facilities on a healthcare campus. However, many providers also want to extend wireless data access and communication capabilities to their staff members while on the road, in route, between facilities, and at home. This will also likely lead to an increased investment in 4G cellular services, devices, and in some cases, internal and external 4G VPNs (virtual private networks). All things considered, mobility seems to be one of the hottest trends in healthcare IT — second only to the EHR/Meaningful Use movement.
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