The New Wireless Health-Care Market

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If you’re in a hospital and your doctor wants to monitor you without being in the room, there’s an app for that. There are also wireless pacemakers that allow doctors to keep track of your health over the Internet, as well as all types of sensors that check your vital signs and can be transmitted to a smart phone or laptop. The use of wireless-enabled devices is happening in hospitals across the country and, according to a report out this week by ABI Research, “this multibillion-dollar market is poised for even faster growth as more and more medical equipment is shipped Wi-Fi–enabled.”

Depending on wireless-enabled health-care services could prove to be useful for several reasons. The biggest is that it allows doctors and hospitals to deal with the crush of aging patients who require regular checkups. For example, if a doctor can check your vitals via his BlackBerry, he avoids the time and cost of bringing you in to do the exact same thing. The idea is that these small changes will make health care more efficient and overall service better and even cheaper. Of course, we can’t forget the financial benefit to this sector, which grew more than 60 percent over the past 12 months in both wireless local area network and Wi-Fi real-time location system deployments. Not bad for a relatively nascent market.

But there are some concerns about getting wired in the name of health. Like what happens if the equipment goes kaput or misreads signs of a heart attack? ABI Research principal analyst, Jonathan Collins, told me that the adoption of wireless by the health-care sector will focus on noncritical applications for now. “It will measure things that are routinely monitored, where a change in a patient’s status won’t result in a life-or-death situation, but rather if a patient has an uptick in blood sugar, a doctor can call them up and see how they’re feeling.”

The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Communications Commission are scheduled to meet next month to discuss how to promote investment and innovation in health technology so it sounds like there’s little that will get in the way of this boom. If all of this sounds scary, consider it a normal reaction. Even a few patients who are on board and happy about this tech shift were freaked out once upon a time. Carol Kasyjanski, who wore a traditional pacemaker for 20 years for a heart condition, became the first American to be fitted with a wireless pacemaker last year. At the time, Kasyjanski told Reuters that her initial “fears have slowly been replaced by a sense of relief, knowing that her heart is under constant surveillance.”

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