Friday, May 27, 2011

The Future: Pervasive Computing in Healthcare

Jay McBain, Senior Vice President, Autotask Corporation

Much of the focus around the modernization of the healthcare facility has been around software, specifically the impact of Electronic Health Records, as well as government regulation, legislation, and stimulus funding. There is another trend that may have even a larger impact for Integrators and Solution Providers longer term: the explosion of internet-connected devices in delivering better healthcare outcomes.

Last year represented a tipping point for how technology will be used from a personal standpoint, in business, as well as governments and healthcare. The convergence of ubiquitous connectivity and cloud computing has one simple and very exciting output: the explosion of hardware gadgets we will use to access it anywhere and anytime.

On the hardware side, the following milestones have given strength to the pervasive computing argument:

1. The evolution of the cell phone into an all-in-one multimedia, gaming, social media, content and business access device.
2. The Netbook craze a few years ago, convincing millions of users that an inexpensive secondary or tertiary device is useful given the right environment.
3. The Tablet, namely the iPad, with sales of 15 million units over the first few months and projections of 50 million this year.

In the healthcare environment, whether at a hospital, clinic or home, almost every device that is plugged into electricity or running on battery power is now being offered (or being planned) with a WiFi option. It is becoming obvious that the health record will evolve to accept inputs beyond the keyboard.

Wikipedia currently defines 46 major categories for medical devices – and growing. In an average clinic, the examination room will likely have 20 devices interconnected to the personal health record within 5 years. From simple blood pressure units to complex anesthesia units, the amount of data collected will grow exponentially.

For the Integrator or Solution Provider, this presents both opportunities and challenges. As the amount of data grows, as will the requirement to monitor and share it both visually as well as auditorily. Even the smallest clinic will need audio/video installations in every room as well as the lobby for registration and self-triage. Making sure these 20 devices interoperate, are compliant with legislation such as HIPAA and HITECH, as well as secure and remotely manageable provide incredible new opportunity.

One of the challenges will be managing the consumerization of technology. With the growth of home healthcare, as well as rapidly shrinking barriers to entry, each device category may have dozens, if not hundreds, of choices for the doctor, administrator or consumer. Imagine the aisles at your local big box store being filled with these products, and much like the iPad, the technology will start to leak into the healthcare environment. Consumer technology rarely has the build quality, warranty, security and manageability of commercial grade technology and having it show up in a mission critical environment like a healthcare facility will likely result in unintended outcomes.

Convergence of technologies like mobility, connectivity, cloud and pervasive devices will drive significant opportunity for those Integrators or Solution Providers that figure out how to monetize it. The days of doing on premise network installs, supporting it through services or per device (or person) recurring revenue, and making margin on hardware and software will continue to decline over the next 10 years. In fact, the value is shifting to the front-end, where consulting, design, architecture, compliance and project management will provide the main source of income.

While the quantity of devices per customer will grow exponentially, the revenue opportunity per device will decline even more rapidly. In a pervasive world, the cost per devices shrinks to the point where extended warranty contracts or per device management becomes irrelevant. As more value is delivered through the cloud, the 20 devices, including audio/video, just become disposable conduits.

A final caution is that this is a gradual process. 20 medical devices in 5 years is the prediction, but the transformation of the healthcare industry itself is on a longer 10-15 year trajectory. Understanding these changes and how they apply to this industry is the first step. Next step, is a plan for your business to start capitalizing on the front end: your experience, guidance and industry thought leadership.

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