HIMSS10: Sprint's Hesse sees 4G, wireless monitoring as 'transformative'

Mobile healthcare has arrived.

Monday at the opening session of HIMSS10 in Atlanta, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse noted that he was the first head of a major wireless company to deliver a HIMSS keynote address.

"We believe there is a historic opportunity for wireless technology to transform healthcare," Hesse told the overflow crowd of about 6,000 people at the Georgia World Congress Center. Though the keynote was heavy on promotion for a certain wireless carrier based in Kansas City, Mo., the CEO of that same company did talk about potential of mobile technology being realized right now and just over the horizon.

Hesse called 4G networks and mobile machine-to-machine communication--think "smart" medical devices and remote home monitors--the "two biggest transformative technologies" available to healthcare. "We're working with partners to provide more options to more patients in more places," he said.

Ever since cameras first appeared in mobile phones a few years ago, people have been finding the devices handy for sending doctors pictures of wounds, rashes and other visible health conditions for quick, preliminary diagnoses. But the quality leaves a lot to be desired. That's about to change.

Before the end of 2010, expect to see 4G wireless phones that can send and receive images and videos at "Blu-ray quality," Hesse said. That will open up a world of possibilities in healthcare. Hesse talked of wireless sensors embedded in belts that can monitor prenatal conditions in complicated pregnancies.

Remember the mobile teletrauma networks in Tucson, Ariz., and Baton Rouge, La., that I wrote about last year? Both of those systems run over Wi-Fi networks, with decent bandwidth but limited range. New, 4G Wi-Max networks that are popping up in big cities all over America solve the range problem and provide even more bandwidth--plus they can transmit live video from moving vehicles, like, say, ambulances.

And, Hesse said, Wi-Max systems run on secure, licensed spectrum, offering better protection against pesky little HIPAA breaches than typical Wi-Fi and older cellular data networks. That alone should get the attention of many a CIO. - Neil