BlackBerry: mHealth IT requires more than consumer approach

By Brian Dolan
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Fraser Edward, Research In MotionEven though Manhattan Research recently published a report that found twice as many physicians are using iPhones this year than last year, the most popular smartphones in use by physicians today are BlackBerrys. mobihealthnews recently had the chance to discuss wireless healthcare trends with BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's Fraser Edward who heads the company's Healthcare Marketing Group. This first installment from those discussions will cover BlackBerry's overall health IT strategy and the company's approach to HIPAA compliance concerns.

Leading the pack

"Four years ago doctors were all using Palm Pilots and they used to beam their contacts to pharmaceutical representatives using infrared," Edward explained. "For 'apps' they used reference guides, drug interaction guides and so on. Whenever they had to get an update they had to plug that device in and they had to tune up their devices every couple of weeks probably." 

"The world now is all about the smartphone," Edward said. "The smartphone has very much changed the industry. [According to the most recent research,] Palm has dramatically declined in terms of the number of doctors having it in hand, while both BlackBerry and -- to a lesser extent -- iPhone have increased dramatically. BlackBerry is the market leader for that group." 

Consumer approach alone isn't enough in a healthcare setting

Edward explained that there are two different groups that BlackBerry services within the IT groups at healthcare facilities -- the IT audience, which is tasked with managing hundreds or thousands of devices and monitoring HIPAA compliances and the more consumer-like group of physicians who just walk in to a facility and expect their personal mobile devices to work with their facility's other IT tools. 

"Understanding both sides of that equation is important," Edward said. "Some of the things that a manufacturer like BlackBerry is doing appeals to both sides and you can make your own inference as to what other platforms are doing, but I think other companies that are coming from a consumer background are trying to do this from the bottom up." (Psst: I think he means Apple/iPhone.)  

"The beauty of where BlackBerry is and why we are maintaining and accelerating our lead is that we are managing both camps," Edward explained. "That is going to increasingly become important as things progress."

Flexible on carrier (no exclusivity) and device form factor

Edward believes one of the key reasons for BlackBerry's continued popularity in health facilities is its portfolio of handsets coupled with its availability across all wireless carriers in North America. Its handsets are also available through 475 carriers in 160 countries worldwide. The phones themselves come in a variety of form factors: touchscreen BlackBerrys, flip phone BlackBerrys, light keyboard or QWERTY keyboard BlackBerrys, BlackBerrys that are 3G or BlackBerrys that cost just $49. 

"Of course all of those devices, regardless of form factor, pricepoint or network -- plug into a central place the BlackBerry Enterprise Server," Edward said. "We currently have that installed in a large group of hospitals -- it may only be for the hospital's executives right now and they may only be using it for email and calendar, but we have that foundation. Once you have the BlackBerry Enterprise Server in place, you can drive the privacy agenda. BlackBerry has 350 IT policies that you can enforce remotely over the air down to the devices. That becomes so important when you start thinking of HIPAA."

We'd never say that BlackBerry is HIPAA compliant

BlackBerry Enterprise Server tools enables the IT group to enforce the passwords on a device, ensure the device's external memory card is encrypted or even remotely wipe a device should it be lost.

"We don't make the statement that BlackBerry is HIPAA compliant," Edward said, "because you can't make that statement. We can say that BlackBerry has the tools and, in particular, BlackBerry Enterprise Server has the tools that enable an organization to be HIPAA compliant for what they do on the mobile... The hospital's IT team can control that device and every aspect of it. It's slightly different from what other companies are doing in the market with application level security. We are talking about device level security."

Once secure, a world of POC tools are enabled

Edward explained that once a facility has that enterprise server in place there are a number of opportunities for wireless point-of-care tools or just more efficient communications between health practitioners.

"There are paging applications on BlackBerry so I can get rid of my old pager and do away with multiple devices. Wallace Wireless has build an enterprise-grade paging application with redundancy so if the data connection isn't working for some reason there is a fail-over. The application has open APIs, though, so you can pull in data from other systems. Bottom line, it's just like a pager -- workers and others are not getting your private cell phone number -- but unlike a pager the open APIs mean you can do so much more. Maybe after receiving a page, the physician will then look up some reference guides or look to collaborate with a colleague over mobile instant message applications. We are working on click-to-call functions so we can facilitate more collaboration."  

No need to talk around HIPAA concerns anymore

The key is to really facilitate collaboration between health practitioners and not make the participants resort to code talk and other means in order to dodge HIPAA compliance by only half-talking about the topic at hand. A lot of health practitioners are very vague on text messaging at the moment because they don't want to talk about the real stuff, because of HIPAA concerns. They still want that convenience that text messaging and mobile phones offer though. With enterprise grade message clients like those offered by BlackBerry that run in this secure environment, you can talk about the real stuff.

"Let's make that decision about our patients faster. You need to bring in different opinions and with traditional pagers, delays and telephone tag and other problems that go along with it, it can take a week to get decisions. BlackBerry, on the other hand, is bringing it to a shift by enabling these new, real-time ways to bring a group together, but you have to do it in such a way that is privacy compliant all-the-way through."

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