Mobile devices and emerging technologies are fueling the creation of a $1.3 billion health care WiFi industry within the next five years, according to ABI Research.
The increasing use of mobile devices
such as smartphones and tablets, as well as cutting-edge technologies, is
pushing the health care industry to invest more in its WiFi infrastructure. In
turn, these changes mean that the wireless market within health care is poised
to grow to a $1.3 billion industry within the next five years, according to a
new report by ABI Research.
As with many other industries, the
drive to have more consumer devices connected to WiFi networks is also pushing
specific vertical markets, such as health care, to invest much more in its own
wireless infrastructure, according to the ABI report "Wireless
Technologies in Professional Healthcare." The study examines the size of
the WiFi market in the health care sector.
"WiFi has established itself as a
key infrastructure technology within health care operations in North America
and is continuing to expand uptake elsewhere," Jonathan Collins, an ABI
analyst, wrote in an email to eWEEK. "We see adoption growing around the
world over the next five years."
The number of smartphone and handheld
devices connecting to WiFi networks in health care will grow by close to 20
percent in 2011, Collins added.
Major vendors creating WiFi
infrastructure in health care include Aruba, Cisco Systems and Motorola.
"All three companies and their
competitors have long seen potential and success in delivering WiFi hardware
and services into the health care market," Collins said. "Along with
stressing the benefits of wireless over wired, infrastructure vendors have also
increasingly partnered and accommodated additional applications and vendor
providers to drive up the ROI from deploying WiFi coverage."
New areas emerging in WiFi include
MBANs (medical body area networks), which use gateway devices to access WiFi
signals for mobile health monitoring. Nearly 30 million MBAN devices will ship
per year by 2016, according to ABI.
An MBAN RF link uses WiFi to connect
body-worn sensors, Collins said. Low-power RF communications allow wireless
communications to replace wired technology in health-monitoring equipment.
"Most specifically, the wireless
connection brings freedom of movement and greater comfort to the patient and
with that provides the potential for longer periods of monitoring,"
The digital nature of MBANs allows for
transfer of data to EHRs (electronic health records) and allows physicians to
reduce inaccuracies in test readings, he noted.
Current WiFi technology in health care
includes Voice Over WiFi (the use of WiFi networks for verbal communication) and
RTLS (real-time location systems). Tracking technology such as RTLS can be used
to monitor hand washing and other personal hygiene practices in hospitals,
according to Collins.
Wireless diagnostic sensors are also
known as M2M (machine to machine) devices and can be used to manage chronic
ailments such as heart conditions and diabetes and to track fitness goals.
Cisco and GE recently announced a collaboration to develop RTLS technology to track
the flow of patients and equipment.
The increased demand for WiFi in health
care could lead to increasing network security needs, Collins said. In November
2010, IBM had suggested a new approach to WiFi security after researchers
developed a tool called Firesheep to show how social networking accounts can be
hijacked over wireless networks using Firefox. The IBM approach, called Secure Open Wireless, would involve encrypted
connections with digital certificates verifying legitimate users of SSIDs
(service set identifiers).
In addition, with WiFi embedded in
smartphones and tablets, doctors will be able to improve their workflow and
efficiency, Collins said.
In 2010, ABI had reported that WiFi use
in health care grew by 60 percent from 2009.
Brian T. Horowitz is a freelance technology and health writer as well as a copy editor. Brian has worked on the tech beat since 1996 and covered health care IT and rugged mobile computing for eWEEK since 2010. He has contributed to more than 20 publications, including Computer Shopper, Fast Company, FOXNews.com, More, NYSE Magazine, Parents, ScientificAmerican.com, USA Weekend and Womansday.com, as well as other consumer and trade publications. Brian holds a B.A. from Hofstra University in New York.