In Healthcare Communications, One Device Does Not Fit All � Yet

I was recently invited to a task force meeting at a major hospital and teaching institution here in the Northeast. There were about 30 attendees from the hospital's many constituencies: doctors, nurses, IT management, telecom, engineering, and bio-med, to name a few. The task force was in the process of choosing a mobile device that would hopefully meet everyone's needs—kind of the "one device strategy." You know, the kind of device that would allow users to seamlessly roam inside and outside the institution, receive critical messages with no latency, and allow instantaneous roundtrip communications wherever you were.

Let me cut to the chase: such a device doesn't exist, and even if one did (and it will eventually), one size fits all will never make sense in the hospital enterprise (if anywhere)—because there are too many constituencies, with too many needs, and too many technological hurdles to overcome.

But that doesn't stop hospitals from wishing and hoping such a device does exist.

Indeed, on the day of the task force meeting, GE Healthcare (which has a significant amount of telemetry and other medical monitoring equipment at this particular hospital), along with its alarm management middleware partner, Emergin (now part of Philips Healthcare), was at the hospital painting a picture of how GE's monitoring equipment could be integrated with various communications technologies, including the magic device.

But while Emergin was able to paint a very nice picture of how monitoring and communication devices could come together, as the meeting progressed it became increasingly clear that no single solution could meet all the hospital's various user needs: from peer-to-peer in-building communications, to the voice and messaging needs of medical professionals moving around inside and outside the campus, to interacting with critical and workflow alerts from medical devices.

This was not the first meeting of this group, and while the agenda that day was exploring integration with medical devices and other alarming systems, next on the team's to-do list would be to look at the wares of the various carriers like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. Unfortunately, this was a meeting I didn't attend, as it would be interesting to see how these consumer carriers (mostly in business to sell minutes and bandwidth) would be able to address the hospitals deeper integrated communication needs.

Healthcare Professionals Need Smarter & More Reliable Communication Tools
As the task force meeting showed, the need for smarter and more reliable communications tools in the life and death world of hospitals is powerful—and increasing, especially as hospital workers are being asked to take on more responsibilities and perform at a higher level. And older communication devices, such as walkie-talkies, beepers, and overhead paging just won't cut it anymore.

Similarly, given the operational stresses around dealing with and maintaining a multitude of mobile communication devices in hospitals, the desire on the part of those responsible for those devices to have a single device is not surprising. After all, being able to stock the smallest range of spare parts and accessories is just practical. Dealing with one vendor also has its advantages, both administratively and financially. And of course the desire to have a user-friendly device, not unlike the ones we use when we are not working, is attractive. But should procurement and asset management benefits win out in this conversation?

The iPhone Factor
At this point I should also mention that there was someone in the meeting waving an iPhone around. And as any healthcare telecommunications manager will tell you, watch out for the doctors with iPhones.


middleware, iPhone, Verizon, carriers, healthcare
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