The decision by the health-care division of General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) to develop Centricity Advance-Mobile, a native Apple iPad application for primary care physicians in small practices, says something about the attractiveness of the tablet PC in the health market.
Essentially, Centricity Advance-Mobile allows doctors to access GE's electronic medical record and practice management system via their iPads.
Mike Friguletto, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare IT's Clinical Business Solutions, explained in an interview why the company has focused exclusively on the iPad over other tablets. "The market demand for the iPad by physicians was greatest," he said. "GE Healthcare does not currently have plans to expand Centricity Advance-Mobile into other mobile devices, but we will consider this as market demand evolves."
The use of mobile devices in health care is evolving. As more providers use the devices to administer care at the point of care, OEMs need to consider what works in this environment before they pitch their products to this market. Undoubtedly, the iPad, with its fast A5 dual-core processor, two cameras, and superb graphics, can help doctors exchange and share a patient's records, as well as medical images such as CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasound scans. Furthermore, the iPad 2 is thin (8.8mm) and light (1.3 pounds), which makes it easy for doctors to carry around.
The suitability of a mobile device in a medical setting was also on the minds of developers at Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE: MSI) when they developed its health-care mobile computers, which are small enough to fit in a doctor's lab coat and can be used to capture and transmit virtually any type of data electronically from a patient’s bedside. The devices offer push-to-talk communications and can be sanitized with common medical disinfectants to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease -- another important factor when offering mobile devices for use in a health-care setting.
This month, Frost & Sullivan released a white paper entitled "Mobile Devices and Healthcare: What’s New, What Fits, and How Do You Decide?" The document examined "the strengths and drawbacks of four major mobile device types -- smartphones, tablets, push-to-talk communication devices, and machine-to-machine (M2M) remote medical monitoring devices." Frost & Sullivan offered several suggestions on what hospital IT administrators should look for when selecting mobile devices. OEMs can learn from these suggestions, too:
- Functionality. From quick, basic voice communications to sophisticated data software applications, there's a wireless device that can meet your needs. The challenge is to clearly define your mobile communications requirements, projecting out over the next three to five years if possible.
- Usability. The device can provide all the functionality you need; however, if your care providers and staff don't find it easy and natural to use and carry, the device has no value. The simplicity of push-to-talk, the pocket-size portability and light weight of smartphones and the seven-inch tablets [and] the automatic capture and communication capabilities of small, compact M2M/connected devices [show that] ergonomics done well result in devices that even your most technophobic personnel will find acceptable.
- Security. Government and industry regulations concerning the privacy and security of patient information dictate enterprise-level security mechanisms.
- Network connectivity. Define the type of wireless networks your users will have available to them. What type of network connectivity must the wireless device be able to provide -- cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile broadband? Test the device across a wide range of locations and signal strengths in order to identify any vulnerabilities.
- Durability. It is a fact of life: In health-care environments, devices are going to inevitably be dropped, are going to fall off surfaces, and are going to be regularly disinfected. If your wireless device is not already ruggedized, an aftermarket casing may suffice.
- Applications availability. If there are few prepackaged software applications available for a particular form factor or operating system -- or an inordinate amount of approval barriers through which in-house developers must jump -- you will not be able to optimize the value of your device.
- Price. Cost remains a major barrier to implementation. Often, however, the purchaser of a wireless device can obtain a better price by signing up for a long-term service contract.