IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Wireless Networking Works Its Way into Healthcare

As Wi-Fi and wireless technologies become more integrated into healthcare environments, service providers need to understand both the opportunities and the challenges. By Martin Sinderman

A cardiologist on a business trip sits in her hotel room with a tablet PC and conducts a long-distance “office visit” with a bypass patient, speaking with him while reviewing his chart and viewing real-time data on his vital signs.

Meanwhile, a new mother consults an app on her smartphone that provides information from her pediatrician’s office on what to do with a colicy baby. And not far away, a hospital physician uses his smartphone to access the electronic medical record of a new patient before retiring for the night.

These technology applications aren’t on physicians’ wish lists—they’re in use today. “Wi-Fi has become an established technology in the professional healthcare setting,” says Jonathan Collins, principal analyst for ABI Research Inc., a market research firm specializing in connectivity and emerging technology. “Wireless brings a convenient and cost-effective way to collect and use patient data in a digital and flexible way.”

Recent data from CompTIA supports Collins’ assertions. In the industry association’s Third Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities study published in November 2010, 25 percent of surveyed healthcare providers use tablets in their practice, and another 21 percent expect to do so within 12 months. More than half of the healthcare professionals surveyed use smartphones for work purposes. As for medical apps on mobile devices, 38 percent of physicians say they use them every day.

Collins further notes that Wi-Fi can be leveraged to extend access to patient data where it is required and useful—either by the hospital bedside or more remotely. “It also enables the collection of data to be increasingly digitized to improve workforce efficiency and data accuracy,” notes Collins.

Challenges Ahead
Channel pros wanting to provide wireless services (or any other health IT solution) to players in the healthcare market will find closing deals challenging, according to Harry Wang, the director of health and mobile product research at Parks Associates, a consumer technology market research consultant. “The sales cycle will be long, because healthcare customers are more cautious, risk averse, and they need to sort out a far greater number of factors before ‘pulling the trigger,’” Wang says.

Vendors may be asked to participate in pilot programs before customers will fully commit, according to Wang. They must also be prepared to invest in such programs—or provide convincing evidence that eliminates the need for them—to get healthcare CIOs and CFOs over the skepticism hump.

SMB systems integrators, VARs, and other channel pros can find it especially difficult to get their foot in the door of today’s heavily bureaucratized hospitals and larger physician practices, according to Steve Carbonara, manager of sales force effectiveness for medical device manufacturer Bard Medical, and owner of Atlanta-based EverGreen Assets LLC, a private healthcare consulting firm.

Becoming a certified partner with a big player already in the healthcare sector is one strategy, according to Carbonara, “Or, if you have a solution people are looking for, make them partner with you,” he says. An example in today’s market would be what Carbonara calls “the companies spawning all over the country” to become certified systems integrators for Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems Corp., a healthcare software maker. 

Another option, Carbonara notes, is entering into a private-label/OEM relationship with a well-established partner that resells a product (such as a report writer) you make and sell only to them. Chicago-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. is a good example of such a partner, he says, noting, “They handle all sorts of products they don’t make, but sell under their umbrella.”

Applications Are Key
With challenge, of course, comes opportunity, and medical device connectivity (MDC) offers plenty of that in the form of new applications. MDC is the integration of medical devices with hospital information systems, enabling data generated by multiple devices to flow from a hospital bedside to a central computer, where the patient’s electronic health record (EHR) is updated without manual input.

This integration allows “infusion pumps, blood-pressure monitors, and other hardware that is now standalone to ‘talk’ directly to a computer, which takes the data in and keeps track of every input,” Carbonara explains. With wireless technology added to the mix, he adds, “The right doctor could be notified via smartphone if the data indicated something was going wrong with a patient.”

As a result of federal rules and regulations for implementing “meaningful use” of EHR technologies that hospitals and physicians must meet to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement incentives, there will be what Carbonara calls “a huge push in 2013” toward MDC. “And,” he says, “systems integrators that can help medical device companies become wireless, and integrate their devices with healthcare information systems, are going to be very well positioned.”

About the Author

Martin Sinderman is a freelance writer and frequent ChannelPro contributor in Savannah, Ga.

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