In 2004, we saw the rise of the iPod digital music player (well, at least here in North America). The iPod was the must have device. I talk about the iPod because it is just the most recent iteration of another disruptive technology: handheld or mobile devices.
Handheld devices first caught on with the marketing of the “Palm Pilot”. This device was marketed as a “personal digital assistant” or “PDA” and was originally a great success. But, an electronic organizer can only do so much. Even as device manufacturers released more sophisticated versions, cynics predicted the demise of the handheld. I would argue that the PDA is dead, but that the “handheld” device will be the next thing that really shakes health care and eHealth.
The original handheld devices were unsophisticated. I think most people can accept the limitations of such a device. But, what people have really wanted is connectivity – to the Internet, to online resources, or the corporate information systems. So, with wireless connections and convergence with cellular technologies, handhelds are making a comeback as “smart-phones”. Research In Motion’s Blackberry is now the #1 selling handheld device. Blackberry and similar devices are starting to provide the type of functionality that health care professionals actually need.
I started this post by talking about the iPod because I think this device represents a different type of future. With devices starting to have memory to store large quantities of data, we will start to see a different health care environment. We’re going to see patients start recording data continuously from wherever they are. Mobile devices will likely become “interface” devices that allow health professionals to connect with health information systems, patients to record and retrieve data (or carry their personal health information), and biomedical devices to transmit data to handheld computers to be transmitted to another repository.
In two previous posts, I wrote about how sales of handheld computers are increasing (read it here), and also that health care professionals (i.e., physicians) are starting to use handhelds (read it here). I’m not suggesting that handhelds are for everyone or for everything. But, with the miniaturization of technology, there is going to be a great change in how we interact with one another and the health care system. With millions of these devices out there, and more and more people with mobile, wireless phones there is a great opportunity for something to happen (either good or bad – hopefully good).
We humans like to use our hands, and the handheld device seems to have the right form factor. Laptop computers are too clunky to carry around. Desktop computers are fixed to one location. Wearable computers may provide another future direction. For now, handheld computers seem to be the way to go.
Stay tuned for another post on my personal predictions on disruptive technologies in health care/eHealth. I have another four or five to go.