While most people equate the words “iPod Touch” with “music player,” health care IT pros are beginning to understand its potential function within the enterprise: as an iPhone — without the AT&T calling plan — that happens to play music. Some hospitals are providing nurses and physicians who don’t tote personal iPhones with access to an iPod Touch while they’re at work so they can use the same apps customized to their workflows that hospital clinicians with iPhones use.
One group, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), last week dumped its annual meeting’s hefty, paper program guide in favor of an iPod Touch; every attendee found one in their goody bag, no doubt whipping up more Apple love in a market where Jobs & Co. already gets its fair share. The devices likely also made a lot of neurosurgeons’ children and grandchildren giddy with excitement, because many attendees doubtless use iPhones already, and that made their new iPod Touch another trade show tech tchotchke in a loot bag full of exhibitor-branded flash drives and LED doodads:
Anyone who’s used either an iPhone or iPod Touch for reading content understands it’s not always easy using the small screen, even with the simple-to-learn fingertip scrolling. Unless a health care practitioner is looking up tiny snippets of data or relaying a quick message on the go (such as one about a treatment change for a patient or a new prescription), it can be hard to get actual work done on the tiny devices.
That’s what makes the iPad such a potential monster for the health care world: It has the screen real estate that the iPhone does not. It’s basically a glorified iPod Touch, running the iPhone operating system.
But there’s a fly in the ointment: These devices don’t support Adobe Flash video.
Last week, the AppleInsider website reported that Apple will be maintaining that no-Flash strategy for some time to come. What will users get? Gianduia, an Apple Flash alternative platform for developing video content. In essence, Steve Jobs is telling the health care world to trust his programmers to do something Microsoft couldn’t with Silverlight: unseat Flash. Flash forward to next year at this time, when your facility’s cardiologists are looking over video studies of patient’s heartbeats, making life-or-death treatment decisions. Flash is on pretty much every Mac and PC on earth, and has endured 14 years of debugging and growing pains. Gianduia, named after a Belgian hazelnut chocolate (seriously?), is where Flash was 14 years ago. The heart patients are waiting. Does your facility’s risk manager get a vote?
The future of mobile devices in health care looks poised for huge growth as wireless broadband networks expand and providers yearn to ditch their laptops in favor of lighter, more patient-friendly devices. Seeing how iPhone is holding its own among competitors in the physician market, and seeing anecdotes like the AANS iPod Touch giveaway, it’s obvious Apple has built up much goodwill among providers.
If they keep botching Flash support, however, goodwill can only get Apple so far in a market ripe for takeover by an agile vendor with a more open, less proprietary approach to video support. A vendor that isn’t all wrapped up in chocolate metaphors. The kind of vendor that lets the market decide which format works best. Such as Google, whose Android phone sales recently eclipsed the iPhone’s for the first time.