The health care industry will need its IT specialists to support multiple platforms of mobile computing despite the apparent popularity of specific devices such as Apple's iPad, according to a new report by research firm Frost & Sullivan.
The white paper "Mobile Devices and Healthcare: What's New, What Fits and How Do You Decide?" details how the health care industry must move away from established computer platforms for health care applications and support all types of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, push-to-talk products and M2M (machine-to-machine) remote-monitoring devices.
"Today, it really is unreasonable to expect a completely homogenous environment in which one type of device is universally accepted by all medical staff," Jeanine Sterling, a senior industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan, wrote in an email to eWEEK. "Different types of workers have different communication needs."
In fact, many doctors prefer to use their own devices in hospitals, Sterling noted. Health care organizations turn to mobile devices to help manage their workflow to control costs, improve efficiency and comply with government and industry regulations, according to Sterling.
Factors affecting which devices doctors and clinicians choose will vary among organizations depending on the requirements for functionality, security, usability, network connectivity, durability, available applications and price, according to the report.
"In the health care industry, the smartphone's touch screens, crisp graphics, rapid browsing and powerful processors deliver a highly user-friendly experience," Sterling said. "We expect this to continue."
The number of apps available for phones on platforms such as Apple iOS and Google Android also continue to grow, she noted. Major smartphone platforms doctors use also include RIM BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. On smartphones, physicians access drug reference libraries, diagnostic tools, EHRs and workflow monitoring tools, according to the report.
"Tablets are also expected to expand rapidly into various health care environments," Sterling said. "These aren't the medical tablets of yesteryear. They're slimmer, lighter and have some new, highly attractive capabilities."
The speed, performance and clarity that tablets deliver are essential for medical applications, Sterling added. Caregivers can share images and data among colleagues and with patients.
As more diagnostic tools and EHR applications are developed in health care, the number of apps for tablets will soar, she said.
The iPad is doctors' first choice among tablets, as online marketing firm Aptilon has reported. Still, Android tablets with their hardware-intensive video and 3D imaging will challenge Apple's lead, according to Mobihealthnews.
Applications for tablets include MRI viewers, mobile film readers and medical calculators, Frost & Sullivan reports.
Push-to-talk mobile devices are widely used by government workers, facilities managers and first responders such as EMT technicians and police officers. They allow users to connect in less than a second, Sterling noted. In addition they bring a closed-loop, secure connection, which is ideal for security officers. These devices now include maps, photo capture, GPS locationing and live chat, according to Sterling.
Samsung and Verizon just announced a new push-to-talk rugged device called the Convoy 2, which makes it easier for first responders, construction workers and military personnel to communicate by pressing a single button.
M2M devices are a growing trend that allows doctors to monitor patients remotely using wireless diagnostic devices.
"Machine-to-machine devices are receiving increasing attention, bridging the gap between health care providers and patients who find it difficult-or just not necessary-to travel to a hospital or doctor's office," Sterling said. "These small devices can use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity to wirelessly capture and communicate a person's data to their health care provider."
M2M can help patients manage chronic conditions such as heart ailments or diabetes or keep track of fitness progress. They're also helpful in caring for the elderly, she noted.
As an example of a carrier implementing mobile technology in health care, Frost & Sullivan cited Sprint, which sponsored the report. Sprint's 3G and 4G networks power BL Healthcare's M2M remote-monitoring telemedicine platform, which allows patients to receive care from their home using wireless diagnostic tools.
Sprint also enables the M2M wireless network for companies such as Ideal Life, a manufacturer of devices that transmit data about a patient's blood glucose levels, blood pressure, weight and oxygen levels.
"Wireless carriers in general are positioned to be the kind of end-to-end mobile partners that can guide health care providers through the mobile device selection process," Sterling said. "Sprint, in particular, has done the due diligence and is partnering with top-tier vendors to assemble an excellent selection of devices for the health care sector."