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.
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