It wasn't just the keynote address by Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse that highlighted the growing role of wireless technology in healthcare at this year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference. It was the proliferation of booths and seminars covering all aspects of the integration of mobile technology and medicine that really set this week's show apart.
In his opening remarks, HIMSS Chairman Barry Chaiken said the U.S. healthcare industry is in desperate need of technological reform.
"In many respects, our health care system still operates like the typical business of 1969; it is still largely paper-based, it ignores information tools that can facilitate evidence-based best practices, and it functions without analytics to qualify and quantify the care we provide," he said. "Too many providers are not taking advantage of 21st-century technologies to access 21st century information, choosing instead to provide care the same way it was done 40 years ago."
Chaiken said it was up to the healthcare industry itself, not Congress, to take the lead on modernizing medicine. If the HIMSS show is any indicator, wireless technology has a lot to give to the healthcare industry.
There was a smattering of healthcare-related apps at the show, including Nuance Communications' new healthcare version of its Dragon Dictation speech recognition app. Research In Motion's BlackBerry platform remained popular for medical applications such as Voalté's One app, which consolidates SMS, voice and critical care alarms to speed response time for patients.
Telehealth also got a good deal of attention at the show. There were multiple educational sessions on the issue, including one held by Golden Russell, senior marketing manager of Philips Healthcare. Philips makes several at-home patient monitoring devices, including a scale, glucose meter and blood pressure cuff.
Verizon Wireless and Google also had a presence at the HIMSS show. Verizon was touting its healthcare enterprise solutions, which include platforms for its EV-DO network and apps for Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile devices.
For its part, Google announced updates to its Google Health electronic records platform, which allows users to import and share their medical records. Google said it was working with U.S. electronic prescribing network Surescripts to provide prescription drug history to users. The tech giant said it also plans to integrate with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to give patients the ability to add health information to an electronic health record maintained by doctors using their own Google Health personal health record.
This year was the first HIMSS to feature a keynote address from a wireless operator. In his address, Hesse said mobile technology could "transform" healthcare by boosting efficiency, raising quality and reducing costs.
"From point of care delivered at an accident site or emergency room, to recovery and follow-up monitoring and in-home care, wireless technology, combined with mobile machine-to-machine applications, can be integrated across the entire care continuum," he said, citing telehealth solutions like apps, remote monitoring devices and 4G technology.
ABI Research expects the worldwide wireless healthcare market to hit nearly $950 million in 2014 as doctors and hospitals look to save money on patient care.
"It's a lot more economical to monitor patients remotely at home than to have them come in personally for checkups that consume time and resources," said ABI Research Vice President Stan Schatt in a 2009 research report.
President Barack Obama has allocated about $20 billion of stimulus funds for healthcare technology spending and the adoption of electronic health records. If the HIMSS' message to the medical community gets through, the stimulus money will not only prompt the industry to get up to speed with modern technology but adopt innovative measures to improve patient care.