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The confirmed availability of near field communication in the announced iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus has sparked a resurgent interest in the technology. Near field communication is available and has been used on other platforms such as Android, Windows and BlackBerry, encouraging a number of innovations around payment systems. Its other possible use cases, combined with its inclusion in the next generation of iPhones, will likely continue to increase adoption of near field communication.
Near field communication, a radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, enables smartphones to exchange information embedded in NFC tags. This is accomplished through physical proximity. A phone that is held near a tag can read information contained within the tag, and a mobile device can also be prompted to perform specific actions by scanning a tag. Often, NFC validates a user identity, which unlocks other data to be transmitted via more robust Wi-Fi or Bluetooth channels.
Healthcare use of NFC for payment purposes has been limited thus far. It's unclear whether this is due to a lack of consumer adoption or to the limited number of credit card machines equipped with NFC capabilities. There are a few other examples of how this technology has been introduced to patients. NFC Pills Reminder is an application available on Android devices that helps patients manage their medication by tapping, speaking and listening to their medications and dosages.
Apple's use of NFC in its Apple Pay system will likely increase the use of this technology in healthcare. Consumers will get on board with this payment method as the payment process becomes more private, secure and streamlined. While only time can tell if medical practices will be able to negotiate better transaction fees and completely replace their old credit card machines, Apple is guaranteed to have an influence on the early adopters that present this payment methods to patients.
NFC has displayed its viability in non-healthcare arenas. Here are a few use cases that can effectively translate to healthcare.
Quick and easy pairing capability with medical devices: NFC tags can be used to provide physicians and nurses a quick way to simply tap and connect to medical devices without having to manually configure their mobile device. NFC tags can hold necessary information to enable that tap to facilitate a connection and exchange of data between the two devices.
Payment systems: Another example of where NFC could catch on in healthcare. Healthcare providers could receive electronic payments from patients tapping their phones against a payment system. This would eliminate the need for swiping credit cards and high transaction fees.
Patient education: For patients who take multiple medications at home, it can become overwhelming to remember what each one does. Here NFC can aid patients by tracking the medication they are taking, and give them other details by scanning the bottle.
Security and access: NFC can be used in healthcare as a way to authenticate users' access to approved systems and to validate users seeking authorization.
Exchange of health information: As physicians and hospitals continue to work on meaningful use stage 2, NFC can help meet one of its criteria by providing a method for physicians to securely exchange health records with their patients.
There are several wireless technologies currently in the market that can support data exchange, such as Bluetooth Low Energy. NFC offers a method for communication that's much more secure than traditional wireless options because it requires significant physician proximity.
As patients, many of us would love nothing more than to be able to use a smartphone fingerprint scanner to sign all HIPAA and privacy forms, but smartphones aren't yet equipped to handle that securely. That's one area where Apple will likely let third-party developers step in and build apps that make use of all its hardware and NFC capabilities.
About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.
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