Prognosis Good for Wireless in Healthcare
By David Pescovitz, Thu Jul 29 17:45:00 GMT 2004

A new study says wireless data spending in the US healthcare industry is finally ready to explode.

Amazingly, more than 770,000 patients die or suffer injuries each year while in the hospital due to medical errors--receiving the wrong medication or dosage, for example. Aggregated across the United States, the total cost of these mishaps is between $1.5 to 5 billion annually.

A new study released yesterday by market research firm the FocalPoint Group examines wireless technologies that can help "prevent these incidents, including e-prescriptions that identify potential drug reactions for physicians on a PDA and improve legibility, RFID bracelets that allow care providers to better match a patient with their medications and treatments, and long-range wireless to provide more complete and continuous data feeds about patient health and activities." According to the "Wireless in Healthcare" study, $7 billion will be spent by 2010 on these and other wireless data applications in the US healthcare industry. That's about seven times the size of today's market. The report focuses on the use of RFID, sensors, and advanced telemetry.

Beyond reducing the number of mistakes, there are myriad ways in which wireless can improve medical care and operations overall, from wireless VoIP badges that help physicians and staff stay in contact to tracking systems for surgical instruments. And, as TheFeature has covered before, there are other mobile healthcare applications just beginning to emerge from the research laboratories.

The big surprise though is that even with all of this new technology either on the market or nearing commercialization, the healthcare industry is apparently way behind the rest of corporate America in terms of wireless deployment.

According to the study's executive summary (pdf), "the $1.5 trillion healthcare industry currently spends only 5 percent on information technology, and even less on wireless technologies. Concerns for reliability, signal interference, battery life, cost, security, and FDA approvals have kept industry leaders from deploying wireless more visibly."

FocalPoint argues that the healthcare industry better get caught up quickly though. After all, "the 'Baby Boomers' demographic will demand significant and unseen adoption of wireless technologies, particularly telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, with a shift in focus from reactive to proactive care."

Researchers are certainly making strides with proactive health systems. By the time these technologies are ready for roll-out, let's hope the healthcare industry has warmed up to wireless.