RIM Eyes Health Care as Inviting Market for BlackBerry PlayBook

With the BlackBerry enterprise software platform, RIM's PlayBook tablet may be a fit for the health care industry.

As Research In Motion positions its new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet for the enterprise, it may focus some of its marketing efforts on the health care field.

With health care organizations already equipped with BlackBerry smartphones and relying on the security the device brings, the PlayBook could be a natural fit for hospitals and doctor's offices to deploy as well.

At the BlackBerry Developer Conference on Sept. 27 in San Francisco, RIM introduced its BlackBerry Enterprise Application Development Middleware, which includes a File Transfer Library application allowing doctors to attach image files to patients' EMRs (electronic medical records).

Using the library application, physicians would be able to open or preview a record and also browse images before sending them to a RIM smartphone and perhaps a PlayBook tablet. Physicians at the least will be able to view these applications on the PlayBook via a Bluetooth connection from a BlackBerry smartphone using the larger screen.

Mike Lazaridis, RIM's president and co-CEO, noted in his keynote address at DevCon that the new PlayBook with its 7-inch display is a larger view of what you'll see on BlackBerry smartphones, without a need for new software, security or a data plan.

In addition, he said, the BlackBerry Tablet OS is built on the QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture, which runs equipment in the medical field.

Also at DevCon, Mark Willnerd, president and CEO of TouMetis, a developer of mobile applications for health care and finance, displayed a medical application for orthopedic surgeons that would allow a BlackBerry smartphone or PlayBook to be used to collaborate on designs for knee replacements.

Although the application was demonstrated on the BlackBerry Torch, TouMetis expects it to be available on the PlayBook in the future, according to Marshall Brezonick, the company's vice president of marketing.

"The expectation is that as we move forward we'll have compatibility with the PlayBook," Brezonick told eWEEK. "RIM is certainly in a better position than most to bring about change, and the BlackBerry PlayBook could really play a significant role in the transformation of the system," he said, referring to the health care industry.

According to Brezonick, health care professionals have expressed an interest in using the PlayBook because of the BlackBerry platform's security measures and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance.

"Like other BlackBerry devices, the PlayBook will have better 'genes' for health care because it will be ready with enterprise security from day one," Shahid Shah, CEO of technology consulting company Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK.

The PlayBook's health care applications will likely be more secure than the Apple iPad's iOS, but perhaps not more so than the Dell Streak's Android OS, which is also a secure platform, Shah suggested. In addition, the PlayBook will likely incorporate remote-management capabilities suitable for mobile health applications, he said.

"If BlackBerry hopes to make inroads in health care, they need to have automatic provisioning, deprovisioning, and remote manageability and inventory capabilities for the PlayBook," Shah wrote. Provisioning and deprovisioning entails assigning and unassigning users on a remote enterprise platform.

Shah also noted that if RIM is "smart about signing up the army of Java app developers to come develop for PlayBook, it would make the new tablet a force to reckon with in health care."

Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group, told eWEEK that he didn't see much potential for use of the PlayBook in health care due to the nonruggedized structure and inability to keep the units sanitized.

He argued that a rugged device from Motion Computing would be a better fit for health care, especially with the likelihood of the tablets being dropped.

To use the PlayBook in health care environments "would require many of the health care IT vendors to redesign their applications to take advantage of the form factor," Malkary told eWEEK.

The PlayBook will be available in the United States in early 2011.