When two smartphone users pass music playlists to each other by tapping their Android phones together in the hilarious Samsung S III commercial mocking Apple fanatics (extended version here), a jealous iPhone user waiting in line for the “next big thing” exclaims “Hey! What’d you just do?”
What they just did was invoke a new wireless standard, Near field communication (NFC), to pass data between the devices. The bumper sticker on NFC is: tap-to-authenticate, sending a data packet of 1Kb or less, which can in turn invoke BlueTooth or WiFi to send more data, such as a picture or document.
Many non-Apple smartphones already have NFC built into their motherboards. Although Apple hasn’t officially announced it, industry watchers suspect recent iPhone models may also have NFC transmitters, deactivated. This is according to Brian Wink, vice-president for mobile payment platform provider C-SAM, speaking at the Partners HealthCare Connected Health Symposium. Within two years, virtually every phone will have NFC capabilities, he predicted.
Lots of technologies, standards and software innovations float by us in the new products stream. They come and go. NFC, however, looks like it could have some serious implications for health care, where constant, fast user authentication is needed for accessing data in a hospital environment and establishing HIPAA audit trails. Increasingly, two-factor authentication is needed in health care, most recently mandated by the DEA as a standard for e-prescribing controlled substances. NFC coupled with a password could challenge old-school ID badges or pricey new biometric systems that also do the job.
Just think of the potential uses: Fast user switching between physicians and nurses entering data into EHRs with a tap of a smartphone. Hospitals now have tricky Wi-Fi connectivity issues as practitioners move from patient room to patient room; imagine a system where a nurse or doc on rounds or changing shifts could walk into a room, tap a phone or tablet against a tag, and the relevant, recent page of that patient’s record pops up on screen so he or she wouldn’t have to waste 20 clicks to get to it. And of course, downloading updated information from diagnostic sensors directly into an EHR for those devices where a constant sync isn’t possible.
Imprivata CEO Omar Hussain sees NFC as a potential game-changer, too. At Imprivata’s HealthCon 2012 user conference, he told SearchHealthIT that the technology could be making its way into his company’s health care user authentication packages, too.
“We’ve looked at leveraging cell phones as strong authentication devices using near field communication,” Hussain said. “The challenge is that cell phones are not ubiquitous enough in the health care environment; some people have them, some people don’t. When the technology becomes ubiquitous, we’ll definitely leverage it, but it’s going to take some time – in three to five years, you’re going to see some major [implementations].”
In other words, this looks like a pretty big ship navigating that health IT new products stream, one that could simplify processes that now take many keystrokes or extra time. Even Apple aficionados would call that insanely great.