Companies that cater to the healthcare industry are finding this is one market that can’t afford cutbacks when access to information is so critical.
Let’s face it. Even in tough economic times, people get sick. It’s not a particularly enlightening thought, but one of those truisms nonetheless.
An early adopter of wireless technologies, the healthcare industry would appear to have a love-hate relationship with wireless over the years. On one hand, hospitals routinely banned cell phones from their premises. On the other hand, doctors are notorious for carrying pagers, cell phones and BlackBerries. Nowadays, Wi-Fi is commonly found in hospitals, which are getting more specific about where cell phones can and cannot be used.
Perhaps now is the time for the love side to shine through. Healthcare will be front and center during a CTIA Wireless 2009 keynote by wireless health expert and noted cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol, director of Scripps Translational Science Institute and chief academic officer of Scripps Health. Conference organizers also devoted panel discussions to healthcare, and various exhibitors will be showing their wares as well.
“The healthcare vertical seems to be getting a lot of attention for wireless,” including in the wireless local area network (LAN) segment, says Kitty Weldon, enterprise mobility analyst at Current Analysis. “Healthcare is a particularly good user of wireless technologies of different kinds.”
While the attention may pique the interest of some newcomers, segments of the wireless community are well aware of the opportunities in healthcare. Qualcomm’s first healthcare client goes back more than six years, when it started working on a platform for CardioNet, which supplies a mobile cardiac outpatient product for patients with arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats. Platform provider Qualcomm buys network minutes wholesale from Sprint for network feeds to the devices.
That effort bears some characteristics of an MVNO model, but it’s not the same as Life Comm, the healthcare MVNO that Qualcomm is developing for consumers. The MVNO will be designed for consumers’ day-to-day phone needs, as well as help manage their healthcare, according to Don Jones, vice president of business development, health and life sciences at Qualcomm. It’s difficult to estimate when the MVNO will go live because so much depends on the timing of FDA approvals.
The heart of wireless’ role in healthcare revolves around making diagnoses happen faster and providing monitoring so that intervention with therapies can occur faster, Jones says. A lot of healthcare has to do with starts and stops – waiting for the results of a test, the next appointment or a decision about which therapy to pursue. Connectivity can speed those starts and stops by taking some of the wait time out of the equation.
For device providers, a big plus in serving the healthcare community is Qualcomm’s Gobi chipset, which offers one piece of hardware to cover divergent standards, so end-users can decide whether to go with a CMDA or a GSM service, says Greg Davidson, senior business development manager for Panasonic Healthcare. Embedding wireless is key because external solutions like data cards don’t perform as well. Better internal placement of antennas, for example, means the product will work better than an after-market type of configuration, Davidson says.
Panasonic has been integrating wide area networking (WAN) into its products for years. In fact, all of its products include the embedded WAN option. Panasonic doesn’t sell direct to consumers and it doesn’t produce desktops or servers – it is strictly about portable devices. In that sense, its products are being used by the people who are out in the field, not tied to a building with Wi-Fi. Therefore, wide area network coverage is a must for a home healthcare worker going from house to house every day.
LIFESTYLE & WELLNESS
Great Call’s Jitterbug MVNO phone service at one point was positioned as a service and product geared for the older demographic – one that naturally is connected to healthcare. But CEO David Inns says Jitterbug’s healthcare-related services aren’t soley geared for that particular age range. “This really isn’t about age as much as it’s about lifestyle and priorities in life,” he says. “Our customers see health and wellness as a priority in their lives.”
Jitterbug is partnering with Meridian Healthcare in a medication reminder program, whereby Meridian issues Jitterbug phones to its customers and they get reminders to take their medication. Part of the mission is to increase compliance, the idea being that if people properly take their medication, that will cut down on healthcare costs down the line.
In an effort to reach people before they need to make a visit to an emergency room, Jitterbug also has been testing a service whereby patients can use a Jitterbug phone with pre-programmed contacts. If a consumer can reach out to an expert, say a triage nurse, beforehand to determine if an emergency room visit is warranted, that will cut down on unnecessary visits.
Later this year, the company expects to launch a diabetes management service. Jitterbug has been working with Well Doc on a system to provide feedback to people based on a glucose monitor reading that can be entered into a phone.
Jitterbug trains a segment of its customer representatives on the healthcare apps, so it’s more than downloading a simple app and letting the consumer take it from there and potentially never use it. “It’s a complete ecosystem” that involves software on the phone, as well as trained representatives who can help customers when they need it. “If you have good compliance of the application, then you’re going to make an impact on that person’s actual wellness,” Inns says.
NOT ALL PAGING IS DEAD
Intuitively, many industry professionals would probably write off pagers because cell phones have all but replaced them. But at least one company figures paging has a place, especially for healthcare workers commuting between physical locations. E-mail and cell phone calls or voice mail are so much a part of daily life that a message here or there can easily get misplaced or ignored, something healthcare professionals can’t afford to do.
In fact, paging provider USA Mobility still counts healthcare among its core market segments – the others being government and large enterprises. Healthcare continues to be its best-performing market, and net churn among healthcare accounts is the lowest among its subscriber segments.
That said, Onset Technology says it’s got a better solution, one that essentially turns a smartphone into a pager. Recognizing that doctors and nurses need to cut through the clutter, Onset offers an advanced paging solution that puts the pager solution in a BlackBerry. The company recently announced a $3 million round of funding that will be used to expand its solutions beyond BlackBerry to devices that use other operating systems.
If the device is set on vibrate when a doctor is out and about, it will start “screaming” when a page comes in at whatever volume the administrator sets up, explains Patrick Corr, vice president of sales at Onset. A pop-up window essentially locks down the device until the user acknowledges the message, at which time the sender gets a notification.
Onset has another tendril into healthcare. Spurred by the financial sector, Onset created a solution so that organizations can scan, block and archive all wireless communications to stay in compliance with regulations. In healthcare, for example, privacy rules can be enforced on wireless devices, so hospital personnel are prevented from sharing information about patients outside the confines of the facility. Onset representatives bring up the example of George Clooney, whose confidential records were leaked by a New Jersey hospital after a 2007 motorcycle crash.
No doubt, Clooney and other celebrities appreciate the added privacy, not to mention the hospital administrators who get in trouble for leaked information.