HP buys Palm: What's it mean for healthcare?

By Brian Dolan
02:48 pm
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HP iPAQHewlett-Packard, which is among other things currently the top seller of PCs in the US and abroad, today announced a $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm. That's right, the one-time mobile device darling of the healthcare industry may have just gotten another chance at winning back one of its old core user groups: Medical professionals.

In a prepared statement Todd Bradley, executive vice president, Personal Systems Group for HP said: "Palm's innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP's mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile connected devices... The smartphone market is large, profitable and rapidly growing, and companies that can provide an integrated device and experience command a higher share. Advances in mobility are offering significant opportunities, and HP intends to be a leader in this market."

A careful inspection of HP's current handheld device offerings for the enterprise yield the HP iPAQ Pocket PC smartphone and PDA. Of the nine case studies profiled by HP for the iPAQ devices, three of them explain how an iPAQ device has impacted the healthcare industry. A medical student is profiled for his use of Epocrates Essentials on his iPAQ, a pharmaceutical sales staff's iPAQ usage is chronicled and a care provider facility explains how its clinicians use iPAQs to access the organization's electronic medical records remotely. While it's not a precise way to gauge HP's commitment to mobility solutions for the healthcare industry, it's clear that the healthcare vertical is a dominant one for HP's current mobile offering.

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Palm PreMedical software developer Epocrates recently published a survey that found that nurses still prefer Palm PDAs and smartphones for viewing Epocrates applications over BlackBerry devices or iPhones, which are currently, respectively, the number one and two most popular smartphones amongs physicians. To wit, just this morning BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's director of healthcare Sheldon Hebert said that he "is very proud given the recent polls that show BlackBerry has passed Palm and the iPhone as the most popular smartphone" among physicians.

As part of the announcement for the $1.2 billion acquisition, Palm Chairman and CEO Jon Rubinstein said in a prepared statement: "We're thrilled by HP's vote of confidence in Palm's technological leadership, which delivered Palm webOS and iconic products such as the Palm Pre. HP's longstanding culture of innovation, scale and global operating resources make it the perfect partner to rapidly accelerate the growth of webOS."

Much of the knee-jerk analysis following the Palm acquisition is that this deal is all about Palm's operating system, webOS. HP has long been a supporter of Windows operating systems, but with Palm's webOS some industry pundits wonder whether HP's much-anticipated tablet, the HP Slate, might come powered with webOS. The HP Slate is clearly headed for competition with Apple and its much-hyped iPad.

The acquisition of Palm, however, could become far more interesting if and when HP sets its sights on healthcare mobility. With HP's enterprise focus, however, it won't be competing as much with Apple's iPhone as it will be with Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices. Once the dust has settled, an HP-backed Palm device might be able to offer similar integration into a hospital's backend system's as Blackberry devices tied to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server currently do.

As Epocrates has noted in the past, only a core group of doctors are still using legacy Palm PDAs, however, 12 percent of medical students polled by Epocrates use Palm smartphones -- another 15 percent use Palm PDAs. Could Hewlett-Packard be the integrator that Palm fans in the medical community have waited for?

Maybe, but let's let the ink dry on that $1.2 billion deal first.

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