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E-Health Case Study: Sprint

Sprint's Panasonic Toughbook Mobile Clinical Assistant

USA

US operator Sprint Nextel offers a range of wireless services designed specifically for the healthcare field as part of a growing portfolio of enterprise services across a number of sectors. Targeting health enterprises such as hospitals, it offers customised services and, through established partnerships with software vendors, offers healthcare-specific applications for use both within organisations and in the field.

Through its Emerging Solutions division, launched in October 2010, it is working with M2M partners under a newly launched M2M Collaboration Center to embed connectivity in devices such as patient trackers and rugged mobile computers.

Sprint’s aim is to provide healthcare enterprises with a holistic communications environment that incorporates 3G and 4G networks for secure and reliable communications both inside and outside hospital environments. This includes solutions for workers based in the field and for remote treatment of patients in their homes. Providing communications services to healthcare enterprises hits the company’s sweet spot, according to Dan Gillison, national director for public-sector and enterprise verticals at Sprint. “It’s all about the movement of data and information,” he tells Informa, something the carrier has being doing for years. It has also been delivering services to health enterprises for years, but healthcare is now one of the top priorities in its vertical-enterprise strategy, because, as Gillison says, the firm has identified both “the need and the opportunity.”

Sprint’s intention is to help healthcare organisations operate disease-management programmes, lower healthcare costs and improve healthcare-service delivery—three things the health industry is under pressure to achieve as ageing and chronically ill populations expand. This includes not only voice and data services used by healthcare professionals but also services for patients that are not designed to be adopted by a consumer market.

The mobile applications offered by Sprint and its partners include clinical data management, access to schedules, field-worker tracking and medical-imaging transmission. Voice services play as important a role as data services in Sprint’s healthcare portfolio, including those that Sprint says guarantee connectivity during network outages and enable group push-to-talk and priority communications for emergency and trauma scenarios.

Sprint’s chronic-disease-management tools are designed for clinicians to use with patients in their own homes and include patient reminders, vital-sign monitoring and teleconferencing for live video consultations. With over $1tn spent each year on chronic-disease treatment, according to Gillison, the argument for reducing costs by introducing efficiency via remote monitoring is clear, and as smart devices proliferate, the opportunities in this area will increase. Sprint deploys services that can be used in this context in partnership with telehealth firm American Telecare. According to American Telecare, a nurse can attend to up to 15 patients a day using remote teleconferencing, as opposed to five or six by travelling to see them in person.

Sprint’s M2M platform is used for several deployed healthcare services, such as Comfort Zone, a web application for caregivers. The application, developed by the Alzheimer’s Association, picks up location information from a tracker device worn by an Alzheimer’s patient. Using Sprint’s network connectivity, the ZTE-manufactured device, sold by tracking firm Omnilink, sends location information at either 15- or 30-minute intervals, depending on the plan purchased. Caregivers can also look up location at will, track constantly and receive panic alerts.

Sprint also provides embedded connectivity for the Panasonic Toughbook H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant, a lightweight (3.4lb), ruggedized touch-screen tablet device with an Intel processor, designed specifically for use by healthcare professionals. It is one of a family of Panasonic “toughbook” devices, a range of which are deployed in hospitals in the US with wireless connectivity based on 802.11, CDMA, GSM/GPRS, EDGE, 1xEV-DO and HSDPA technologies and provided by a range of carriers.

Although the mobile healthcare market is relatively nascent, US operators have existing relationships with health enterprises to build upon in the provision of new wireless services, and innovation in m-health technologies is especially well supported by a number of parties. Chip vendor Qualcomm is working with technology companies to foster wireless medical-technology innovation, industry body the Continua Alliance is developing interoperable standards for telehealth devices through cross-sector collaboration, and this year medical-research centre the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded more than $36m in research awards relating to mobile healthcare.

Also, under the current administration the healthcare market is undergoing reform to improve efficiencies in healthcare management and expenditure, a challenge considered essential to address in view of increasing demands put on services by aging and chronically ill patients.

The health-enterprise sector is not a new one for operators such as Sprint, but it presents a raft of new opportunities in the provision of wireless services, and not only of those that are brand new and highly innovative. Incredibly, fully integrated communications (including voice) across mobile and hospital-based healthcare work forces do not seem to exist to the extent that one might expect. Gillison told Informa that Sprint is excited to be providing services in this area, which is unsurprising given the wide scope for innovation—particularly with partners—and the opportunity to become heavily integrated with customers. With revenues undisclosed, it is difficult to know whether such effort pays off, but it makes sense for Sprint to be early to market, particularly because its competitors are looking to expand their footprints in the same market.

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