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Upgrade: The case for the smartphone in healthcare, according to BlackBerry

Upgrade: The case for the smartphone in healthcare, according to BlackBerry

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Smartphones are moving to replace pagers in hospitals, with remote monitoring and patient records on tap. Will they succeed? BlackBerry maker RIM weighs in.

When will doctors and nurses ditch the pager for good?

The smartphone has arrived on the healthcare scene, and it's not just bringing the ability to e-mail and text.

For medical professionals, the smartphone holds the power to access drug reference guides on the go, monitor a patient's heart rate or glucose levels and securely share electronic health records.

I spoke with Fraser Edward, healthcare market development manager for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, to discuss how smartphones can help emergency and long-term treatment get smarter.

SmartPlanet: We know BlackBerrys from the boardroom. What can it do for the emergency room?

FE: Blackberry is a device and Blackberry is a mobile platform. We give you connectivity and third party providers add the functionality.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server in the healthcare context will take care of 1,000 nurses who need to use devices, and doctors and support workers using patient-identifiable information.

There are a lot of rules about protecting patients' information. The Blackberry platform helps lock that stuff down so the information doesn't go the wrong way to the wrong people.

For meeting the requirements of governments and agencies, we have to get common criteria certification. The last time I checked, Blackberry is certified in 24 countries for secret information. That applies to healthcare.

People are using it for what you and I are using it for, but when you add physicians into that, they're using medical reference, drug reference, drug interaction apps. Epocrates, Medscape...all those [applications] are useful out in the field.

What becomes exciting is clinical collaboration, with a series of applications that are increasingly used in hospitals in the U.S. It's all about that private, secure environment.

What you're doing is you're getting rid of pagers -- there are still millions in healthcare. You're getting companies that are sending EKG and diagnostic images and you can physically look at it. You can see the baby's heartbeat in real-time. It's about sending real, clinical content and that alert to the doctor. That's one powerful and dramatic tool.

SP: How else can healthcare professionals collaborate?

FE: Medicine is now a team sport. So using voice over IP, unified communication tools, instant messaging...you're able to pull people together. If I've just received an alert about a patient, I can call two colleagues I trust for a second opinion. With click-to-call, I can do a three-way call. No phone tag.

Finally, I need to pull down information from my information system and find that out. Electronic health records: give me all the data you want. I can get that on demand.

That really dramatically changes how a doctor or nurse is able to work.

SP: You mentioned the battle against pagers. Why haven't smartphones taken off?

FE: Manhattan Research does an annual survey of 2,000 doctors and asks them what smartphones they're using. BlackBerry is the number one smartphone for doctors. I think the majority of healthcare organizations have BlackBerry somewhere. I think it's well over two-thirds of physicians that are carrying smartphones.

SP: How do you keep a smartphone sterile?

FE: Infection control is an area we're exploring. We're a commercial-grade device. It's an area of increased attention and through third-party cases and sterilization processes we're looking at it.

Just like their pen and their tie, they're all a challenge.

SP: Let's discuss some of those monitoring use cases.

FE: When it gets to peripherals and other interesting things, we've got quite a few new cases where we're moving into nursing and nurse call using voice over IP. Various partners are taking bedside monitors and -- you've got that telemetry.

On the home care side and disease management side, there are a variety of applications where the end patient has a BlackBerry that's talking to their glucometer or heart monitor or blood pressure, if they've got hypertension.

Bluetooth accessories take info from patient, send it through a BlackBerry to a monitoring company, where it can then be a phone call or recommendation to the patient.

SP: A more intelligent way to do long-term care, you mean.

FE: Chronic disease is one of the biggest challenge in the U.S. You're going to be seeing smartphones as your health coach to help you make better decisions. I think that becomes a really interesting future step. The ROI and business case for cheaper or more effective medicine at a more manageable cost.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure