Hospital CIOs look to unify communications on a single mobile device

As far as hospital CIOs are concerned, the new buzzword in mobile healthcare is "unified communications." In other words, they want to deliver voice, data and text services to a single device, or at least as few devices as possible.

I base my conclusion on a small sample and purely on anecdotal evidence, so in no way should you take this as the proclamation of a trend. Consider it more of a suggestion.

I've spent the last two-and-a-half days in Braselton, Ga., at a resort 50 miles north of Atlanta, for the first-ever Healthcare IT Institute, a small meeting that brought together a few dozen healthcare CIOs, some vendor representatives--mostly from the networking and interoperability side rather than clinical systems--and health IT consultants. Yesterday, I facilitated a discussion on trends, risks and technology related to healthcare mobilization. Turnout was disappointing, but those who did show up offered some good insights into the mind of the CIO, circa 2010.

The group almost universally said that unified communication is something everyone wants but isn't readily achievable just yet. Either the technology is slow to catch up with workflow or wireless networks don't cover every nook and cranny of older buildings or there simply aren't enough choices in this immature marketplace just yet. The proliferation of portable computers and smartphones hasn't taxed network capacity just yet, but there could be a problem if people start running more voice applications on the wireless infrastructure, the CIOs said.

In one case, a CIO is replacing the desk phones for IT staff with VoIP-enabled smartphones, but neither infrastructure nor the devices are there for an enterprise-wide rollout. (You try buying 500 iPhones on a community hospital's budget.)

The session also confirmed that FierceMobileHealthcare is on the right track in terms of coverage. Just a couple weeks ago, we hosted a webinar about wireless voice-over-IP telephony. One CIO mentioned that instant messaging could be a short-term solution for ad-hoc communication networks within their facilities. Well, we covered that subject, too. Unified communications? Yes, right here.

And I expect this isn't the last I'll be writing on unified communications. Call it an educated guess. - Neil