Healthcare is possibly the world's most complex and multifaceted industry, with a huge number of intricate rules and policies. It is also arguably one of the industries that would benefit greatly from the adoption of IT, but it has so far lagged considerably behind other industries in terms of implementation. Fear of financial snags and substantial changes to infrastructure have greatly hindered hospitals' attempts at implementing IT on a large-scale basis.
But all that is now beginning to change. Convergence of the internet, wireless and devices such as handhelds and palm tops using state-of-the-art technology such as wireless and Bluetooth are on the rise. The introduction of wireless technology and its potential benefits have changed the manner of healthcare delivery.
Decreased turnaround time, remote monitoring of patients and computing on the go are just some of the benefits available through the use of these technologies. Wireless is set to bring about a paradigm shift in today's healthcare delivery practices.
WIRELESS DEVICES IN HEALTHCARE MARKETS
The management and delivery of healthcare has changed with rapid advances in IT. Wireless devices markets in Europe for healthcare applications are developing quickly and revenue is probably one of the best indicators. Revenues for this market were pegged at $60m in 2006 and this figure is anticipated to increase to as much as $266.2m in a little over half a decade. This roughly translates to a growth rate of over 23% – a level rarely seen in other industries.
Despite the hurdles, several factors have boosted this market and continue to propel it forward. Initiatives have begun on a pan-European level to further the adoption of IT. Several projects have started at regional and local levels to increase the penetration of IT in healthcare. Increasing ageing populations and a decreasing number of medical professionals globally are also major factors that have indirectly contributed to the widespread use of wireless technologies.
The market for wireless devices is on the rise, primarily driven by growing numbers of chronic disease cases. Increasing incidence of patients with ongoing illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD) and asthma necessitate regular, frequent visits to the doctor.
Europe is also witnessing a sharp downsizing in the number of hospital beds, particularly in intensive care units, and consequently the need for remote monitoring and telemedicine capabilities is increasing. The primary focuses of wireless applications in healthcare have been in the following areas:
- Disease management and treatment
Globally, there is a growing emphasis on the increased care and comfort of the patient. The quality of care administered has improved and doctors are placing growing importance on affording the best care for their patient while making it economically feasible. Timely diagnosis of symptoms has become crucial for treatment and patients and the medical fraternity understand the importance of being able to see the patient without delay.
- Disease prevention
The focus today is on prevention. Identifying potential patient population has helped immensely in reaching out to them so as to prevent the onset of symptoms in the first place. Wireless plays a very important role in disease prevention.
Applications of wireless technology in medical devices and for healthcare purposes have risen significantly. Convergence of patient monitoring and IT has benefited the healthcare industry greatly. Management of workflow processes in hospitals, RFID-based equipment tracking and transfers of patient information between hospitals are just a few major examples of this convergence.
This technology has also entered the expansive field of medical devices and remote monitoring. Primarily used for monitoring symptoms in patients suffering from chronic conditions, these devices measure and transmit vital signs such as blood pressure and blood glucose, and convey these parameters to a central server where they are stored alongside patient records.
With the number of tech-savvy Generation X doctors increasing, the use of electronic devices such as laptops and palmhelds is rising. The widespread penetration of wireless technology has made mobile computing even easier. Medical professionals can keep themselves constantly updated on patient information that is stored on the hospital database by using wireless services available on their handhelds.
Technological advances in this field have emerged, to the extent of being able to monitor multiple people while singling out those who are sicker than the others. This has been made possible by transmitting medical parameters via wireless and has further deepened the hope for wireless triage monitoring, which is particularly useful during emergencies and mass casualties.
So where does the future of this market lie? The prospects for this market are vast. Providers of wireless technology are of varying types such as and not limited to:
- Security providers
- Implementation service providers
- Software providers
Different market opportunities exist, such as strategic alliances with device manufacturers to provide wireless solutions for their devices. Initiatives that integrate other information systems such as hospital and health systems are further areas of development in this market. Similar to other markets, on reaching saturation, it is expected that the service and maintenance activities will become the mainstay of this market.
THE FUTURE OF INTEGRATION
IT continues to play a very important role in the administration and delivery of healthcare. The areas of demarcation between different specialities in the healthcare industry such as devices, imaging and technology continue to blur as the communication industry strides forward. Integration of these different domains is crucial for better healthcare management.
With advances in technology, convergence and integration of wireless technologies with other domains is inevitable. Smart clothing and sensors placed inside the human body are closer than ever to becoming a useable, practical solution. Wireless is poised to have a positive impact on healthcare delivery and enhance the quality of patient care.