GE Healthcare uses smart phones to boost productivity of field staff

June 14, 2004

In an effort to help customers improve scanner uptime, GE Healthcare is providing its field service engineers in North America with smart phones powered by Palm operating systems. The company believes the phones enable staff to respond to service issues

In an effort to help customers improve scanner uptime, GE Healthcare is providing its field service engineers in North America with smart phones powered by Palm operating systems. The company believes the phones enable staff to respond to service issues more quickly than they could using standard cell phones.

To date, some 2300 GE field service engineers in the U.S. have been equipped with the phones, which have an integrated personal data assistant that acts as a wireless computer. Using the phones, field engineers can order parts, access scanner records and other historical information, and tap into GE's global knowledge management system.

"If a scanner is down, it impacts patient care, patient satisfaction, patient scheduling, staff scheduling, and even department revenue," said Jerry Burris, general manager for global services, GE Healthcare Technology. "Our field engineers must be accessible, they must have access to information, and they must be able to respond to the customer as quickly as possible. With this technology, they're able to help our customers increase uptime and efficiency."

GE's embrace of smart phones began in 2001 when the company, whose field personnel were using standard cell phones and laptops, began looking for added functionality and the ability to use wireless data applications. Initially, 1900 smart phones were put in engineers' hands. At the time, staff were entering data on paper, then transferring it to their laptops later. The idea was to eliminate the paper step altogether.

"They wanted to reduce the time field service reps were spending doing administrative work," said Victor Borme, enterprise sales manager for Kyocera Wireless, which became a major supplier of smart phones to GE Healthcare. "We believe this will be a rapidly growing market. There's a lot of anticipation that in the next 12 to 18 months, the corporate use of these devices will increase significantly."

Kyocera provides smart phone technology to other clients, but its only medical imaging customer is GE. Other radiology vendors, however, are looking at how wireless technology can help make their field staff more efficient.

In the fall, U.S. field engineers from Siemens Medical Solutions will begin using a wireless PDA with standard cell phones. The system will enable real-time parts and inventory management, while allowing staff to access the Web. The company will launch about 1000 units at a cost "in the millions of dollars," said Carl Westerhold, director of the Siemens Uptime Service Center.

About 60% of GE Healthcare's 5000 field service engineers around the world use some type of smart phone. GE executives hope the technology will help reduce administrative workload from 40% of the engineers' time to 10%, allowing them to spend more time with customers.

One of these smart phones, the Kyocera 7135, features a GPS locator, USB and serial connections for PDA interfaces, wireless e-mail, browsers for wireless Web surfing, two-way text messaging, infrared port, wireless fax and modem, and multiple language options. These phones, which are slightly larger than conventional cell phones, enable field service engineers to get a scanner up and running in as little as 15 minutes-sometimes remotely, Burris said. As a result of using the new technology, GE has received plaudits from customers who have noticed the company's quick response time.

"It's all about our customers' return on investment and improving their revenues," Burris said.

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