Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ideal Mobile Technologies for Healthcare

I was recently asked about the ideal mobile devices for healthcare.

In the past, I've said simply - under a pound, 8 hour battery life, and can be dropped from 5 feet onto concrete without damage. The Emano-Tec's MedTab prototype is close. The Intel/Motion Computing C5 Mobile Clinical Assistant is close but a bit heavy to carry for 8 hours.

The three questions I was asked and their answers are below.

How satisfied are you today with your ability to get the information or communications you want on your current mobile device?

The Palm/Treo line of products are diminishing in popularity because they are not optimized for the web and do not have the enterprise management features desired by hospital IT departments. Pocket PCs are just too challenging to use. Windows CE/Mobile on a mobile device is not easy to use since the screens are too small and the mouse/pointer support too poor to support the Windows operating system. While Treo and Pocket PC lose market share, Blackberries and iPhones are gaining marketshare.

I'm very satisfied with my Blackberry as a email device, but it's a less than perfect web device. I've used an iPhone 1.0 and it's a great web device but I find using a non-tactile keyboard challenging for high volumes of email. I'll test the iPhone 2.0 as soon as it's available to study its security and enterprise integration features. My Macbook Air subnotebook laptop is ideal for applications requiring a larger form factor.

Thus, with the existing devices on the market today, I can say that the combination of a Macbook Air subnotebook for lightweight web and Blackberry for mobile email works pretty well. Neither however is ideal for work on medical wards where a lightweight, pocket sized, mid-sized screen, and disinfectable device would be perfect.

What would you like to be able to do with your mobile device that you can’t do today?

The web is the key application that needs to be supported well on a mobile device with a 1024x768 screen that could fit in a white coat pocket. Network support should include 802.11 and optional EVDO/EDGE if possible. Of course battery life is a trade off. I'd choose the network support that offers 8 hours of work at speeds of a megabit/second or so.

Also important is support for reference applications like ePocrates and UptoDate.

The Amazon Kindle is lightweight, web connected, with a long battery life and a full keyboard. It's starting to approach the kind of form factor I find ideal, but it is does not have an operating system that is compatible with existing reference applications and does not support color.

You’re obviously a power user, how well are less proficient users responding to the capabilities and requirements of mobile applications?

Among all the users of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I've seen a increasing interest in the iPod Touch, iPhone and the web via subnotebooks because they are easy to use and intuitive.

Over the next few months, we'll be piloting a number of devices - iPod touch, Kindle, Blackberry and iPhone 2.0 - with a group of student volunteers to assess the utility of these devices for education and clinical education. I'll report on the results, but at this point it is clear that the PDAs of the past are no longer sufficient for the interactive, web-based, social network era.


Dean said...

I use a Nokia N95 and I've not had any problems with it as yet. I get the push email feature similar to the blackberry, a great web browser and the device responds quickly particularly when I'm working with documents.

ukdataguy said...

Have you looked at any of the small form factor "micro" PC, such as the OQO or the ASUS Eee PC.
I have looked at these devices and intuitively they would seem like there's a place for them in the increasingly mobile care delivery model.
These devices combine all of the features described in your posting but the question remains, will nurses and other front line care staff use them or will they just become another set of high tech toys?

Unknown said...

If access to PC's in the hospital becomes ubiquitous, say a touch screen every patient's room, hallway, etc...will there still be need for do-everything mobile device?

In other words, what problem is the mobile device trying to solve? Perhaps there are better solutions.

Bill Perry said...

I'm fascinated by the new crop of umpc devices like the Asus or HP. Because they are inexpensive it might be just the thing to encourage more clinical folks to use these tools. Bigger than a PDA and smaller than a laptop, they seem super portable and relatively kind to bifocaled eyes.

Mr. Gunn said...

Seconding Rizwan ud Dean. The N95 does have the enterprise management tools, works great with Exchange, for example, and also has a QWERTY keyboard, so there's no fumbling around trying to use a touch keyboard with gloves on, and it has 3G with a great web browser, built on the same code as the iphone browser, so all the mobile sites work on it too, just faster.

Unknown said...

I used to be a big Windows Mobile fan, but after trying the Ipod touch (I have and use both), I realize after this summer, when numerous great medical apps have been released for it, it has the potential to be the single best PDA for the wards given its reliability, simplicity, and interface. The only concern is that some hospital may still not have easy to access wifi available throughout all of the clinical areas.

Even without downloadable apps yet available to install locally on the device, there are already about 10 or so great "web apps" that allow you to do everything from MEDLINE searches to accessing clinical consult 2007 through Unbound Medicine.

As a current med student, it is exciting to see just how much more a device like this can offer compared to the traditional Palm devices that have been the mainstay for the past several years.