Q&A with Research In Motion's Fraser Edward

The iPhone may be making some deep inroads in healthcare, but Manhattan Research says the BlackBerry still rules the physician smartphone market. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is not looking to give up that lead anytime soon.  FierceMobileHealthcare recently had the opportunity to sit down with Fraser Edward, RIM's manager of market development for healthcare, to talk about smartphones in healthcare, network security, the role of mobile applications and the future of the BlackBerry.

FierceMobileHealthcare: You're in marketing, so let's start with that. What is your primary message in healthcare today?

Fraser Edward: BlackBerry is known for having a secure mobile platform. We know that physicians are looking to consolidate paging, telephone service and mobile computing into a single device. They don't want to carry around two pagers, a mobile phone and a PDA anymore. Apps are a key part of that.

Now, historically, BlackBerry has been very attentive to the IT department because of our security features. People can bring in their own BlackBerrys and the IT manager can easily add it to the network using BlackBerry Enterprise Server [software that connects mobile devices to major in-house messaging and collaboration software such as Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise and Lotus Domino].

Of course, doctors have carried pagers for years, and we can integrate paging and instant messaging into their BlackBerrys. We, of course, are known for e-mail, but e-mail was never the first thing doctors cared about.

FMH: They care about being available when patients or nurses need them and they care about quick access to clinical data when they are paged.

FE: Right. And CIOs care about network security. With BlackBerry, the whole device is secure. They can set up a separate inbox for alerts so those alerts don't get lost. If I'm a doctor, I can set the priority level of my alerts depending if I'm on call or not. We've seen studies showing that up to 15 percent of pages [to physicians] are ignored.

Because we have an open API, vendors and IT departments can attach our Enterprise Server to their lab systems. They can attach lab reports and images to pages. The doctor gets the page, connects with the server to download the attachments-again, we're focused on security-and then can either sign off on the report or, with one click, can call in. Many of our apps are click-to-call.

FMH: Let's talk some more about apps. Obviously, Apple has grabbed the headlines and a lot of customers with the Apple App Store, but I know BlackBerry is encouraging the development of third-party apps as well.

FE: We like to say that we provide mobile voice solutions, so the apps help tie together our services. A lot of the apps are sitting on two platforms. Enterprise-grade apps like Skyscape or Epocrates can reside on the [computer] desktop and on the mobile device. ... Other products out there might offer more apps, but a lot of those don't do very much. To us, it's not the volume of apps, it's the quality of apps. It's security, too. Most of the large EMR vendors have optimized their systems for the BlackBerry browser.

FMH: Looking specifically at healthcare, what kinds of apps tend to be the most popular?

FE: We believe that doctors want four things from their smartphones. Two are consumer-focused [in that they are part of the interaction with patients] and two are more institutional, hospital-focused. On the consumer side are medical reference and dictation. Then they use their devices for alerting or as pager replacements and for collaborational tools and messaging.

USA Mobility has half the U.S. pager market today. A lot of companies were in this space in the '90s, then got out when demand for pagers dropped when everyone got mobile phones, but USA Mobility stayed in and serves a lot of doctors. We've been working with Wallace Wireless [a developer of mobile software for healthcare and emergency management ] to create a BlackBerry app for pager replacement.

FMH: Why is it that so many docs still carry pagers when every other profession gave them up years ago?

FE: They like having the pager number, frankly, because it "protects" them from nurses. They don't have to talk right away. Now, remember, a lot of people bought BlackBerrys on their own [rather than having them issued by the institution] and these are their personal phones, too. A PBX hospital extension number can be on the BlackBerry. This also protects them from having to give out their personal cell number.

BlackBerry has always been a communication collaboration platform in addition to an app platform. We think collaboration is going to be part of meaningful use [of electronic health records, the standard for qualifying for federal stimulus money]. The EHR is important, but they're going to want collaboration, too. IT can offer BlackBerry apps as incremental change toward a full solution. The apps, I don't think they work in isolation. You're going to do things in a batch and you're going to jump from app to app.

FMH: I've been hearing a lot lately about smartphones integrating with medical devices and home monitoring equipment. What is RIM doing in this areas?

FE: Well, we of course have wireless integration through Bluetooth. There's a company called Healthanywhere that makes an app for connecting Bluetooth-enabled home monitoring devices to the BlackBerry. There's a company called Sykes [Assistance Services] that provides nursing services, including through Telehealth Ontario [in Canada] that's using the Healthanywhere app to check up on patients. When they know something already [about a change in the patient's condition], the nurse can intervene proactively.

What's exciting about this stuff is, it's not an idea. It's actually in use.

FMH: Things like that are cool and seem like they do improve the quality of care, but what CIOs in the U.S. are losing sleep over right now are EHRs and meaningful use, whatever the government ends up defining that as. How are you working to help them achieve meaningful use and capture some of the stimulus money?

FE: We're telling them we can help them get some quick wins. Most of these organizations today, they need some wins. They're struggling with the big projects like CPOE and EHRs. CPOE is hard. EHRs are hard. What we're doing is trying to make some things easier.