IBM, Intel push wireless healthcare initiatives

Both IBM and Intel this week announced partnerships with health care vendors to promote the use of wireless technology. But analysts and users said that while mobile technologies are gaining currency in health care, security concerns impede their widespread adoption.

In an announcement with PatientKeeper Inc., IBM said it will install back-end systems, such as servers, workstations and printers, and provide systems integration and training to clients who use PatientKeeper's software, which tracks patient information on mobile devices. About 40,000 physicians use PatientKeeper's software to date.

On Tuesday, Allscripts Healthcare Solutions in Libertyville, Ill., and Intel said they plan to integrate Intel's PRO/Wireless 2011 LAN products with Allscript's software, which automates physician tasks, such as prescribing medication and capturing billing information on a mobile device. The two companies will also hold forums with physicians and CIOs at health care organizations on how wireless systems can help lower health care delivery costs while improving patient care.

Health-care organizations are showing growing interest in wireless devices, according to a survey released in April from the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Half of the survey's 950-plus respondents said wireless information devices would be the top emerging technology that their organization would deploy within the next two years, compared with 29 percent last year.

The key to getting hospitals to adopt wireless or any other technologies is in winning physicians, who control much of the spending, said Richard Telesca, an independent health care analyst in Hartford, Conn. "Hospitals are hesitant to use anything that doctors don't endorse," he said.

According to Steve Stearns, director of computing operations at UVa Health System in Charlottesville, Va., physicians and other caregivers are interested in wireless technologies, but concerns about security remain. The health care organization is waiting until the government releases the final security rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, before expanding its pilot wireless devices to capture patient information at the point-of-care in emergency rooms.

At that point, Stearns expects that UVa Health will have to encrypt any patient data on wireless devices, but he won't know for sure until the regulations come out later this year.

"Security is the No. 1 barrier" for health care's adoption of wireless technology, said John Bogan, president of HealthCIO.com Inc., a health technology market research firm in Duxbury, Mass.

Stearns said there's also concern about the safety of using wireless devices. "There are documented instances where wireless devices interfered with patient monitoring equipment in intensive care units," he said.

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