Sprint offers healthcare wireless time machine

By Brian Dolan
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Sprint CEO Dan Hesse"HIMSS has been working for decades to get the healthcare industry out of the 1970s and into the 21st century," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse pointed out during his keynote at the HIMSS event in Atlanta this week. "That's why I'm here," Hesse said, "to help facilitate that change."

We have a historic opportunity in healthcare right now to use wireless technologies to boost efficiencies, reduce costs all while improving the quality of care, Hesse continued. The wireless industry needs to hear from the healthcare industry: What are the needs? What works best in the field? What tools work best for patients at home? We want to help provide you with those tools, Hesse said.

Just how out of date is the healthcare industry?

"If I had to pick the one industry facing the biggest gap between need for change and use of wireless to facilitate that change, it would be healthcare," Hesse said. Most industries spend between 6 percent and 8 percent of their revenues on telecom, but healthcare only spends 2 percent or 3 percent on it, he said. Darwin said that survival of the fittest is not about the strongest or the most intelligent -- it's about the most responsive to change, Hesse explained, and consumers are beginning to drive a lot of the change in healthcare. Healthcare spending on telecom will jump from $8.6 billion to $12.4 billion in the next few years, Hesse predicted, and two-thirds of that increase in spending will be from wireless apps and services.

What if we had asked the healthcare industry to partner with the wireless industry back in 1986, Hesse asked as he held up a massive mobile phone from that year. What if I said we could monitor patients and look at EKGs on one of these? The timing couldn't be better for healthcare and wireless to work together, Hesse said as he took out a smartphone from his pocket. Today two-thirds of physicians use a smartphone like this one and soon more than 80 percent of them will.

What use cases does Hesse see for the wireless tools his industry offers?

> E-prescribing -- Physicians' bad hand writing causes some 4 percent of errors found in prescriptions. Hesse said a doctor friend of his realized the first time he saw a Palm PDA that it was the same size as his prescription pad and once it got Internet connectivity it would eventually eliminate the handwritten prescription. Hesse said e-Prescribing could save $20 billion annually.

> Instant, secure access to vital signs -- Hesse pointed to AirStrip's fetal heart rate monitor as a perfect example of vital sign remote monitoring that is in the market today.

> Advanced mobile apps for consumers -- In just a few years we have gone from going online to look up home remedies for various ailments, Hesse said, to using apps like flu radar which can tell us how many cases of the flu have been diagnosed in our area. Hesse also pointed to the app currently being researched that encourages the end user to cough into the phone's microphone so it can compare the sound to its database of coughs and come up with a preliminary diagnosis.

> Ultrasound probe that plugs right into a cell phone -- Ultrasound exams could be conducted nearly anywhere and pipe the images to doctors that could also be nearly anywhere, Hesse predicted as he showed images of an ultrasound probe that connects to a cell phone. This will not only cut costs for ultrasounds, especially in developing market but also make it easier for EMTs and other healthcare workers who are away from hospitals to have a tool to use on the go.

> Wireless video monitors for virtual, in-home visits -- While this one didn't seem to leverage the real benefits of wireless, Hesse told a story of a nurse who had gained too much weight to be able to come into work anymore. After a short while of being detached from her former colleagues she became depressed over the situation and much less engaged in our own care. She then became part of a program that used wireless video monitors to enable two-way communications between patients in their home and physicians and nurses at care facilities. After receiving frequent virtual visits using the system, she took control of her health decisions, lost the weight and made it back to work.

> Virtual coaches on your handset -- Hesse described another patient who had Type 2 diabetes, a regimen of oral medications and high blood pressure. In order to adhere to our routine she participated in a program with Sprint's partner Welldoc to track her adherence. Welldoc offered her a virtual coach application that reminded and encouraged her to stay on track.

> Mobile enterprise for pandemic situations -- During the H1N1 scare, Hesse said Sprint encouraged its workers to work from home or remotely to stem any potential spread of the flu virus among its ranks. Unlike businesses that have not adopted mobility tools for the enterprise, Sprint was able to restrict travel and encourage working from home without disrupting their employees' workflow and progress. They had the mobile connectivity and devices to work from anywhere.

> mVisum for remote access to images, charts -- Sprint partner mVisum enables clinicians to view charts, x-rays and other images right from their smartphones. Hesse said a cardiologist might be alerted through mVisum on his BlackBerry of an ambulance en route with a patient whom the paramedics suspected had suffered a heart attack. If the ambulance had wireless connectivity it could send that EKG to the cardiologist's phone via mVisum and the clinician could prepare for the patient's arrival knowing what needed to be done ahead of time. In those types of situations the time saved is extremely valuable.

> Intel Health Guide for remote visits and monitoring -- Hesse said that moving more patients out of the hospital and back into their homes not only reduces costs overall by also improves opportunities. A woman with a high-risk pregnancy should not be moved in many cases, but she has to move in order to visit her doctor. Instead, hospitals could provide patients with Intel's Health Guide, a tablet-like device with a touch screen that aims to make it easy for patients to track their vital signs and monitor their biometrics through peripheral devices. Physicians can make remote visits through the Health Guide.

> 4G wireless-enabled video cameras -- Imagine video cameras with 4G wireless connectivity that can help patients learn how to apply their skin medication. A similar camera could be installed in an operating room to live broadcast surgeries in high definition. If it were installed in an ambulance, the EMTs could live broadcast stats, triage and more so that the clinicians at the care facility could prepare for their arrival.

> Intelligent medicine or pills with wireless embedded -- "Soon i will be able to hold up a pill with wireless embedded into it," Hesse said. The pill could also include a video camera and could send data and images straight to a doctor's wireless device.

> 4G phones with Blu-Ray quality screens -- Everyone always points to the cell phone screen's small size or low resolution as reasons why images aren't very useful on that platform. Hesse said HD, Blu-Ray quality resolution is coming to 4G phones.

"There are a lot of unsung heroes here today in this room," Hesse said. "In the sometimes bitter debates on the subject of healthcare, too often we forget how important the job is of those people who deliver care."

"To quote Yogi Berra, 'The future ain't what it used to be,'" Hesse said. With all the potential that Hesse pointed to and the fact that ten mobile phones are manufactured per every baby born today, the future is increasingly wireless. The future of HIMSS is wireless. And the industry can finally put the 1970s behind it.