What would Samsung buying BlackBerry mean for healthcare?

By Jonah Comstock
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BlackBerryDespite denials from both companies involved, rumors continue to circulate, based on reports from Reuters and the Financial Post, that Samsung wants to buy -- or at least acquire a majority stake in -- BlackBerry.

Analysts have speculated on a number of reasons the bid might be in Samsung's interests, from an increasingly competitive smartphone market to BlackBerry's extensive patent database, but most agree that what BlackBerry has to offer is on the enterprise, not consumer side. And part of the appeal of BlackBerry's enterprise offering is its historical appeal to doctors and hospitals. So what might a Samsung acquisition of BlackBerry mean for healthcare?

Samsung has made no secret of the fact that it sees healthcare as a major growth area. The company has dabbled in fitness and healthcare for years with its FDA-cleared S Health app and, more recently, Gear Fit smartwatch. Last year it launched SAMIIO (formerly SAMI) and SimBand, the hardware and software components of an open source health tracking platform play, and brought on 24 digital health partners including Cleveland Clinic, WellDoc, and EarlySense. EarlySense was also highlighted by Samsung at its CES keynote and was the beneficiary of a $10 million investment tied into plans for Samsung to market a consumer version of EarlySense's passive bed sensor.

Samsung also runs a Creativity Lab, or C-Lab, that lets employees experiment with off-beat creative ideas. That program recently produced a prototype for a novel health wearable: brainwave-detecting connected headgear that could warn a user of a stroke before it happens.

The company has also been sending execs to some of the larger digital health conferences to emphasize the company's newfound interest in the space. At the mHealth Summit, Chief Medical Officer and VP for Global Healthcare David Rhew made clear that at least for the company's S Health app, which works with connected fitness devices, the company wants to move beyond consumer applications into the hospital.

"Especially when we talk about on the enterprise side, we’re talking about healthcare providers and their workflow and making sure they’re a part of the over-all solution," he told MobiHealthNews in an interview last month. "The technology that they use is predominately EHR-based. So our desire is that this does not sit out in some kind of a silo out there, but that through collaboration with healthcare providers, EHR vendors, and other healthcare-related IT technologies we can create a more connected ecosystem."

It's been suggested that, if Samsung is after BlackBerry for a push into enterprise, it's because of pressure on its consumer handset business, from Apple at the high end of the market and Xiaomi at the low end.

BlackBerry has been focused on enterprise since it first launched, and it's made healthcare -- where HIPAA puts stringent requirements on security -- a priority. Two years ago when the company launched its BlackBerry 10 operating system, healthcare was a major focus of that attempted comeback. Through encryption, partitioning, and mobile device management, BlackBerry's enterprise software is attractive to hospital CIOs concerned about data breaches. At CES, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong's Nant Health announced it would use BlackBerry to secure two different systems that manage a high volume of sensitive patient data.

So tapping BlackBerry as part of a push into hospitals is a natural fit for Samsung, particularly because Apple just raised the stakes of the enterprise mobility game by inking a high-profile partnership with IBM, and healthcare was a big part of that push.

In November, BlackBerry partnered with Samsung so that customers of BlackBerry's BES12 enterprise security system can use it with Samsung devices. It will allow Samsung and BlackBerry to sell each other's systems as well as leveraging the strengths of both. The Wall Street Journal reported that there's very little overlap between the user bases for the two products, and that Samsung has struggled to find adoption for KNOX.

It remains to be seen if Samsung is really out to buy BlackBerry: it's worth reiterating that both companies have denied it so far.

“We want to work with BlackBerry and develop this partnership, not acquire the company,” J.K. Shin, the leader of Samsung’s mobile-phone business, told the Journal.

But even if the rumors are just because of an even closer partnership, the combination of Samsung's recent push into consumer health and BlackBerry's longstanding relationship with the healthcare system would help make a combined company more of a major digital health player in both realms.

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