This week, Panasonic quietly gathered some of the bigger brains in medical technology and introduced them to the company’s upcoming Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), a new computer for doctors and nurses to use at the point of care. We were not able to attend, but wanted to get a few answers from Panasonic about the discussion and the future of devices like the MCA. Below is our brief interview with Greg Davidson, Healthcare Sr. Business Development Manager, Panasonic Computer Solutions Company.
Medgadget: Can you provide our readers with the overview of Healthcare Mobile Technology Symposium, and what was discussed at the conference?
Panasonic: For the past three years Panasonic has hosted the Healthcare Mobile Technology Symposium as a way for thought leaders, solutions providers, doctors, nurses and healthcare facility IT staff to discuss market trends, issues and needs and to share mobile technology experiences and best practices. Attendees share their experiences with industry peers while discovering the latest innovative technologies in mobile healthcare. The Healthcare Mobile Technology Symposium is an opportunity for the leading providers in healthcare to discuss best practices and chart the course for mobile technology.
During the event we covered a broad array of topics including current and future healthcare mobile technology solutions; the mobile technology needs of facilities, home healthcare providers and large organization, like the Defense Health Information Management System (DHIMS). We heard from senior healthcare directors at Intel and Microsoft as well solution providers like Sprint, Absolute Software and NetMotion. Of course, there were also customer case studies and discussion panels. Not surprisingly, we spent time discussing Panasonic’s family of mobile healthcare products, including our soon to be release, Intel Atom-based Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA).
Medgadget: Everybody understands that mobile technologies can significantly streamline the clinical workflow, decrease mistakes, increase patient satisfaction, improve compliance and documentation, etc, etc. Did anyone at the conference discuss the possibility that mobile technologies can improve clinical outcomes, decrease morbidity and mortality, and maybe even decrease rates of nosocomial infections?
Panasonic: The ability for technology to address the tens of thousands of error-based deaths in healthcare was certainly addressed. The real time access to data, the ability to better track meds administration, clearer and more detailed clinical notes and improved collaboration all have the potential to improve clinical outcomes.
Microsoft’s worldwide health senior director, Bill Crounse talked in detail about the ability of commodity computing technology to significantly impact the healthcare practices in remote locations in developing countries. While healthcare facilities in the Western world struggle to secure multi-million dollar IT projects, a simple laptop and webcam in rural India is arguably making a greater impact on patient care.
As for decreased rates of nosocomial infections, the best thing a mobile device can do is be fully sanitizable. The problem with most technologies available in medical settings is that they are difficult to sanitize. A simple feature like a fan on a mobile device — often used to cool the processor — creates a risk for the passing of germs and infections because you can’t fully sanitize the device without cracking it open and cleaning the inside. Mobile devices that are constantly moving from room to room and from patient to patient need to be fully sealed, so that they can be completely and easily sanitized.
Mobile devices in healthcare should be considered alongside any other important equipment utilized in healthcare facilities–they must be sanitizable, they must be of the highest quality, and they must provide the highest level of reliability. Just as with any significant piece of healthcare equipment, when mobile healthcare technology is substandard or fails to perform, patients’ lives are at stake.
Medgadget: We understand that implementation of new technologies always costs money. However, doctors and nurses are already mired in a sea of paperwork. What is preventing more adoption of mobile computing in the hospital and at the office?
Panasonic: There are a number of issues preventing the adoption of mobile computing devices, including the security of the device and the data that resides on it, the high failure rates of many of these devices, a short battery life, the lack of a compelling integrated solutions — a small, light, fully functioning device with a camera, barcode scanner, RFID and maybe even GPS — a lack of applications that are ideal for healthcare mobile computing and the trade-offs that come with mobility (smaller screen, small or no keyboard, etc.).
That said, I think we are at a point now where many of these problems have been successfully addressed.
There will never be a “one-size-fits-all” mobile technology solution for healthcare. I think we can all agree that’s a failed model. The healthcare market needs a broad set of solutions that meet the reliability, durability, connectivity and functionality requirements of its users.
Instead of selling organizations on one device and convincing them to modify their existing workflow to suit that device, at Panasonic we utilize events such as the Healthcare Mobile Technology Symposium to directly gauge the needs of healthcare industry leaders and deliver a full range of mobile solutions, from which customers will hopefully be able to find a device that meets their users’ specific needs. Mobile devices should adapt to meet the specific workflows of their users–not vice versa.
Medgadget: Do you see any specific hurdles that the technology needs to cross to get to critical mass when mobile devices are a standard in the clinic?
Panasonic: Connectivity is one of the major hurdles that mobile healthcare professionals face. We understand the challenges that exist in creating a seamless wireless network in healthcare facilities, especially given the emissions from some of the equipment being used. What surprised us at this year’s Symposium was that over 50% of our attendees are deploying more than one wireless carrier solution to ensure connectivity in the field; most often in home health environments.
For example, a home health nurse could be out in the field with an embedded Sprint WWAN card in her laptop, while also carrying a Verizon WWAN card for area’s where the Sprint signal is weak or non-existent. Obviously, this creates considerable IT management issues and costs.
Given this reality, we expected more people to be aware of the recently announced Gobi technology from Qualcomm, which will allow a single embedded modem to access multiple carrier networks through a software interface. This type of mobility will enable much greater productivity in the field. As Gobi awareness grows, we expect customers will demand solutions leveraging this technology for their highly mobile workers.
Battery life is another major hurdle for mobile device deployments in clinical settings. Regardless of the device type, users want to make sure the unit will operate for nearly a full shift on a single charge. Obviously, a device is not very mobile when it’s charging in its cradle. It comes down to productivity and economics; the longer a device functions on a charge, the more the staff can leverage it, resulting in a greater ROI. The shorter a device operates on a charge, the more of them you’ll have to purchase in order to meet your needs.
If a device is running out of power, the ability to switch out batteries while the unit remains fully operational is another clear need. Powering down a device, changing the battery, powering back up and then logging back into the system, is not an acceptable solution for nurses, doctors, system administrators and the CFO.
Security is another major issue faced by healthcare facilities attempting to deploy mobile solutions. Because of the sensitive nature of the information stored on many mobile devices, hospitals need to be able to ensure the security of patient data at all times. If a laptop is stolen, it’s important to be able to track the physical asset in an attempt to recover it, but it’s more important to be able to delete all data remotely. Now that solutions like this exist from companies like Absolute Software, healthcare facilities can deploy mobile computing solutions with less concern about their potential legal liabilities.
Another hurdle is that some clinics are still waiting for the “perfect” solution and succumb to “paralysis by analysis”. There will never be a perfect solution–and tomorrow’s solutions will always be better than today’s. However, organizations around the globe are achieving amazing benefits with today’s imperfect solutions. As such, those organizations that choose to wait must understand that the lost value in not utilizing today’s technology far outweighs any potential gains from waiting for a more perfect solution in the future.
One of the Symposium presenters quoted Voltaire to make this point: “Better is the enemy of good.”