GE gauges utility of handheld IT at HIMSS 2007

February 28, 2007

GE Healthcare has loaded a version of its Centricity PACS Web into a Sony handheld, asking visitors to its booth at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference what they think about the device. Before going to New Orleans, GE put the device in the hands of physicians at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the Indiana Heart Hospital.

GE Healthcare has loaded a version of its Centricity PACS Web into a Sony handheld, asking visitors to its booth at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference what they think about the device. Before going to New Orleans, GE put the device in the hands of physicians at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the Indiana Heart Hospital.

The objective behind both efforts is not to sell the device or even build interest in such a product. A practical merger of medical software and handheld consumer electronics is still three to five years away, according to Mark Morita, marketing manager of disruptive technologies at GE. Instead, the company wants to learn what prospective users of the device want to see in such a product and how they might use it.

"We are suggesting that they take a look at this combination, and we're asking, 'Does it make sense to use our applications in this type of form?'" Morita told DI SCAN.

Handheld devices have taken the public by storm. Text messaging and photo sharing are now routine functions on many phones. As more and more power is mobilized in these and future generations of handhelds, Morita wants to gauge how consumer electronics might be harnessed in the practice of medicine. The future is bright, he said, but current options are limited.

The Centricity PACS running on the Sony handheld, a relatively new device called the Vaio Micro PC UX, offers wireless access to reports and e-mails. But images, not surprisingly, are too small for anything but review.

"They're fine as annotated images, but you don't want to diagnose from them," Morita said.

In addition to the Sony Vaio Micro PC running Centricity PACS, GE is floating the idea of a hand-carried computing tablet called the Motion C5. Visitors to the GE booth at HIMSS are being asked to look at the consumer-oriented product, built by Motion Computing, as a possible means for accessing patient data or even reference materials.

Morita wants to learn how radiologists and referring physicians might benefit from advances in consumer electronics, assessing off-the-shelf products for possible medical applications and gauging professionals' opinions. Preliminary reactions to the Centricity/Sony Vaio combination on the Michigan campuses and at Indiana Heart Hospital were an eye opener.

"When these doctors first looked at the devices, they loved them," Morita said. "But when we handed them off with the applications loaded, they were a little too difficult to use."

Some of the problems might be tied to the Windows XP operating system, which is far from ideal for mobile devices, according to Morita. Windows Vista might be better, as this OS is optimized for ultramobile devices. GE has little experience with Vista, however, leaving Morita with only speculation about its potential.

Eventually, portable consumer electronics might be the gateway for a more flexible, user-friendly way of practicing medicine. Morita envisions a time when handheld devices, tied into medical networks, provide not only textual reports but could be used to control medical display devices that have been strategically placed throughout a medical center or healthcare enterprise. This could give radiologists the best of both worlds.

"We want to get away from the notion of fixed radiology-ready rooms," Morita said. "We want people to be more mobile in their ability to diagnose."