HIMSS coverage: Wireless gets healthcare unplugged

February 12, 2003

Wireless and mobile technologies are giving previously stationary medical applications legs, offering the industry new opportunities and new challenges."When it comes to mobile healthcare, one size does not fit all," said Kenneth Kleinberg, vice

Wireless and mobile technologies are giving previously stationary medical applications legs, offering the industry new opportunities and new challenges.

"When it comes to mobile healthcare, one size does not fit all," said Kenneth Kleinberg, vice president and research director for the Gartner Group, at a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society session Wednesday.

Nor will any single device, network communication approach, or vendor emerge as the silver bullet for hospital applications. But mobile wireless technologies have captured the fancy of the marketplace to the extent that major vendors are now entering the race.

Kleinberg predicts established enterprise healthcare vendors will beat small upstarts beginning this year.

"The McKessons, Epics, Siemens, and others are finally going to deliver mobile wireless solutions, so you won't necessarily have to go to the upstarts who have given this market a jumpstart," he said.

Kleinberg ticked off pros and cons for each wireless technology:.
? Pagers offer the widest wireless coverage, but they're limited to short messages. Typical applications include notifications and alerts.
? Smart phones are great for conversations, but they offer only limited data access.
? PDAs are emerging as a winning form, but they're not yet capable of functioning as the primary computing device, mostly because of small screen size and lack of a keyboard. They are better for information look up, charge capture, summarized record viewing, and limited order entry.
? Clamshells offer a midsize form factor, but they are a bit too big for the pocket yet too small in terms of keyboard.
? Tablet PCs are poised to reach new levels, but such devices will be at least as expensive as today's laptops depending on configuration and features. Their success will depend on handwriting recognition.

Security remains an issue with most wireless devices.

"If security is the Achilles heal of the Internet, security is the throat of mobile wireless," Kleinberg said.

He recommends that hospitals plan for multiple devices to meet multiple needs and buy mobile devices with integrated wireless. When implementing a wireless application, they should build the wireless LAN infrastructure around IEEE 802.11b.

"Don't depend on high-bandwidth WWAN (worldwide area network) for the next few years," he said.