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Healing through the airwaves

A B.C. company called Webmed is helping to take the power of wireless to a whole new level.


July 1, 2004  


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When I attended the Expo Comm Canada conference in Toronto in May, it was refreshing to walk into the first industry session and not see the same faces sitting in the speakers’ chairs on stage.

Billed as Canada’s premier telecom and advanced technology conference, these seats are typically reserved for the heads of telecom, wireless, cable and other companies, who provide the connectivity part of the communications equation.

This year, however, delegates were treated to anecdotes and advice from applications developers and content providers in the payments, entertainment and health care fields.

Connecting doctors

While the entertainment and payments discussion was interesting, Dr. Jonathan Burns left the strongest impression on me about the power of wireless to effect real change in our lives.

Burns is founder and CEO of Webmed Technology(www.webmedtechnology.com), a Chilliwack B.C.-based provider of web and wireless-based applications for the healthcare sector.

The company’s offerings are used in parts of B.C. and Ontario to connect home care nurses to physicians.

Let’s say you get a nasty gash on your leg and have a nurse visiting to change the bandage.

With Webmed’s Pixalere, the caregiver uses a handheld device to update your condition, complete with colour photos and wound assessment data.

Your doctor can then access this information securely, via the Internet, to provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment, while the nurse is still with you. No trip to the clinic required, and doctors and nurses can assess more patients per hour.

Webmed technology also enables emergency room personnel to quickly call up treatment guidelines and procedural information via a handheld-optimized web portal.

A search on Google of “wireless healthcare” turns up dozens of articles about wireless technology trials in hospitals and clinics across Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

What made me sit up and take notice was when Burns told delegates, “There is enough money in the system to get what we need. We just need to be smarter in how we spend it.”

As head of the company, Burns obviously has a vested interest in these solutions. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect he’d be happy if there was more money for health care since he also noted that physicians don’t worry about things like ROI when treating the sick.

But Webmed appears to provide some options for making the system, not only more efficient, but more responsive. As Burns put it, “Patients are really keen to have anything different than what they have now.”

The company is not the only game in town of course. A search on Google of “wireless healthcare” turns up dozens of articles about wireless technology trials in hospitals and clinics across Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

A key benefit is improved patient information at bedside, including easier to read patient charts, more accurate prescription medication reports, instant access to lab results, EKGs, X-rays, and so on.

The bottom line typically is a boost to productivity and a reduction in errors, including, possibly, mistakes that may otherwise have proven fatal.

There are hurdles

“Sounds great!” I hear you say. “So what’s the problem?” Some of the foot-dragging appears to come from within the medical community itself.

Concerns voiced by doctors include questions about the confidentiality of patient information and possible interference between wireless devices and medical equipment.

These issues can be addressed. It’s up to equipment vendors, applications developers and network providers to do the testing necessary to put these concerns to rest.

A trickier problem is that any new system requires a period of adjustment, which is going to be somewhat time-consuming: entering data on a handheld computer is not as fast as scribbling a note on a chart (especially if good penmanship isn’t a requirement).

Even if it’s faster overall, and better for the patient, the perceived inconvenience isn’t going to win converts.

But perhaps a new generation of health-care professionals — those who are in medical school now, and who already depend on wireless devices — will be the driving force for change.

Now go and get that leg looked at.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or trevor@words-tm.com.


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