Healthcare IT approaching the tipping point

According to a report published this week, the market for ehealth technology could be approaching a tipping point. The report “101 Things To Do With A Mobile Phone In Healthcare”, published by analysts Wireless Healthcare, identifies a number of ehealth companies that have been formed by surgeons.

Intelligent Medical Systems and Xenetec are typical of ehealth vendors run by clinicians with first hand experience of clinical processes. The report states that these companies will accelerate the adoption of ehealth by giving credibility to ehealth as a technology and providing reference sites within the healthcare sector itself.

Wireless Healthcare feels peer pressure will also drive the market, especially if consultants start reaping the benefits of venture capital backing and IPOs. The report states that, in the not too distant future, the ehealth market will enter a new phase where clinicians themselves encourage the automation of clinical processes.

However, Wireless Healthcare sees the health worker’s resistance to change remaining a key barrier to adoption of IT. Nurses, clinicians and consultants are concerned that automation will impact on their careers and lead to job losses. The report states that while health workers are being told automation will free them to provide more care and personal attention to patients, in reality the de-manning of the healthcare sector will differ little from downsizing in other sectors, such as engineering and financial services. The report suggests that the amount of personal attention a patient receives from a nurse or consultant is unlikely to increase from today’s level – especially if increased workflow efficiency and automated diagnosis means the patient spends less time in hospital.

The report provides 101 examples of the use of wireless and mobile technology in healthcare. While some of the applications are speculative, for example a mobile device to detect MRSA, others, such as SMS based patient reminders, have already been deployed and are earning revenue for vendors.

The report notes that while patient-facing ehealth systems have changed the relationship between the GP and patient, to date their impact on the hospital consultant has been small. The patient still relies on the consultant to carry out tests and, to a large degree, has to accept the treatment regime offered. However, a new wave of automation is altering working practices within hospitals and changing the role of the consultant within the healthcare process.

According to Wireless Healthcare, a new generation of ehealth products and services, based on wireless and mobile technology, is putting diagnosis and treatment management into the hands of the patient. Companies such as CardGuard and Vitaphone are offering suites of wireless ehealth applications – which include blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose monitoring - to patients, with or without the support of a conventional healthcare provider.

As Peter Kruger, Senior Analyst with Wireless Healthcare, explains: “When sites offering medical advice first appeared on the World Wide Web few GPs believed that, within a decade, they would encounter patients who used the Internet to become specialists in a particular ailment. Before the arrival of the ‘informed patient’ the GP was expected to provide a diagnosis, then recommend a course of treatment. Today many patients believe they already have a diagnosis and merely wish to have it confirmed by a series of tests. The question is no longer ‘Doctor what is wrong with me?’ but ‘Doctor when can my treatment begin?’ Mobile and wireless ehealth will enhance and broaden the scope of self diagnosis.”

The report “101 Things To Do With A Mobile Phone In Healthcare” is available from www.wirelesshealthcare.co.uk The report has been produced to help the Healthcare Special Interest Group (SIG) of Cambridge Wireless promote the use of wireless technology within the healthcare sector.

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