Wireless to take healthcare out of hospitals

Hospitals in the US and Europe are increasingly using wireless technology to automate patient care and back office processes. However, according to a report published by Cambridge UK based analysts, Wireless Healthcare, it is technology that supports remote care that will drive the market for wireless based medical devices and applications.

The report, "Wireless Healthcare 2008", examines three key areas of online healthcare: telecare for senior citizens, remote care and diagnostics, and the increasing penetration of the healthcare market by the consumer electronics industry. In terms of market size the report sees the remote health and fitness market alone growing to more than $4 billion per annum over the next 10 years and identifies a number of companies that are using their positions in the health and fitness device market to attack the ehealth sector.

The report notes that the barriers to entry are lower for vendors targeting the remote care market whereas there is often strong resistance to change within hospitals. The report also points to parallels in other markets for high technology. As Peter Kruger, Senior Analyst with Wireless Healthcare, explains: "With hindsight communications and IT vendors fared better pitching their products and services to companies such as Amazon rather than using up their marketing budgets attempting to convince high street bookstores to modernise. With an increasing amount of healthcare going online and more components of the care process being pushed out into the community or GP surgeries, we expect to see the market for wireless in hospitals flattening once key applications such as WiFi based bedside systems and RFID based patient identification systems are in place."

Wireless Healthcare 2008 contains profiles of 24 vendors who, by thinking outside of the box, have already made an impact on the wireless based ehealth market and have developed products and services that leverage a new ehealth model. The report notes that while data collected from remotely used wireless devices will eventually flow back to hospitals this is not a given in all cases. It highlights the services deployed by Card Guard and Broomwell Healthwatch, who have their own patient monitoring centres, as templates for a new telecommunications based healthcare model. The report also describes the role of near field wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and ZigBee, and WLAN technologies such as WiFi and GSM within this new healthcare model.

The report identifies the development of electronic patient records as a key factor influencing the growth of the wireless healthcare market. "The way hospitals are using wireless in healthcare in 2008 assumes that, at some point, all the data collected will be held in a patient record database. If these databases are deployed in the near term then the market for wireless devices will grow rapidly," explains Kruger. However, he adds the warning: "If there are further delays in rolling out electronic patient records then the hospital based wireless market will slow and all the action will move to the next generation healthcare providers and wireless devices connected to Google or Microsoft based patient record platforms."

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