Vendors in various specialisations are confirming increased demand from the healthcare space this year for IP-based products, suggesting related opportunities for resellers.
John Davies, vice-president of sales and marketing at Intel's solutions group, outlined a blueprint for the company's technology development at the recent Dimension Data Forum 12 conference in Queensland. Healthcare was one of nine verticals earmarked to accelerate mobility growth.
Davies said IP-based mobility was driving increased take-up of IT by the health sector around the world. In healthcare, he said, it was crucial for applications to work "any time, anywhere and with any connection".
He said Intel had forecasted that 100 percent of notebooks -– partly through harnessing Windows .NET and Centrino -– would be wireless-capable by 2005.
According to Davies, Intel had partnered with healthcare information system company iSoft –- a UK-based company that claims to be the largest provider of health information systems outside the US -– two years ago to maximise gains in that vertical.
Byron Phillips, CIO at iSoft, said mobility technologies significantly lowered total cost of ownership and operational efficiency for healthcare professionals. Even in the Asia-Pacific, business was good enough that the company had 2,000 staff working in the field, he said.
"Intel has assisted us to extend the reach of our software behind the four walls of hospitals, which has been the traditional healthcare model," he said. "That's one thing that's extremely high on our mind."
Doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in public and private sector facilities were increasingly using wireless connectivity, for example, to access, enter and edit medical results, patient records and so on. Inclusion of physical information in multimedia formats such as photos, x-rays and animated graphics was becoming common, Phillips said.
In the UK, iSoft had been working with the National Health Service (NHS), scaling systems up to current users, Phillips said.
iSoft claims its electronic patient records application can do 328,000 transactions -– including results reporting, order management, clinical data capture, prescribing and clinical decision support -– an hour with 10,000 current users.
Davies said iSoft was just one example of how IT opportunities were ramping up in verticals such as healthcare.
Peter Owen, Australia and New Zealand territory manager for bandwidth management services vendor Packeteer, said its "packet-shaping" offerings were doing particularly well in the healthcare space, initially in the US but now here in Australia as well.
So much so that targeting health-related sectors is one of the US company's primary focuses, he said.
"We're actually starting to get some really niche exposure into healthcare as well. Healthcare is really encouraging managed services," he said. "Now we're starting to see things [that were] happening 18 months ago in the US now happening here in terms of transferring emphasis and things. Government is particularly strong," he said.
Like with most technologies, it would seep down to the SMBs as the products became more affordable, Owen said.
Meanwhile, ASX-listed managed security services vendor SecureNet has just signed a deal with commercial e-healthcare website Ozdocsonline.
Ozdocsonline, as its name suggests, offers general practitioner consultations via the Internet, for a fee. SecureNet will host Ozdocsonline's platform and manage its security services, including firewall, gateway, network intrusion detection, security monitoring and virus protection, the company said in a statement.
Dr Veronique Lajoie, managing director at Ozdocsonline, said that, although the service focused on routine, follow-up matters such as repeat prescriptions and test results, it needed to be highly secure. "Doctors and patients need to feel confident that the information exchanged over the Internet remains secure and confidential," she said.
SecureNet claimed that it used a security protocol which could ascertain the bona fides of GPs using the service, which potentially offers a new revenue stream to doctors.
"A permissions management engine within Ozdocsonline's infrastructure ensures that each patient is securely connected to his or her own GP, and can only access his or her own health record," SecureNet said.
Another technology increasingly adopted by the healthcare sector is IP telephony.
Avaya integrator Touchbase recently sold $800,000-worth of contact centre gear and services to BUPA Australia Health Insurance in Melbourne.
Avaya said the insurance company, which has one million customers around Australia, hoped implementing IP telephony in all branches would lift productivity, improve disaster recovery capability and save costs.
Julian Butler, network systems manager at BUPA Australia Health, said the IP-based package would enable a scaleable, flexible mix of traditional and IP telephony technology.
"[This] gives us a roadmap for multimedia contact management with short-term ROI," Butler said.
Also, global IP services vendor Equant has signed an IP telephony-based deal with global respiratory medical device vendor ResMed in Sydney.
According to Equant, ResMed's corporate data has run over frame relay for more than six years. The new deployment -– which could eventually go global -– would be trialled by 80 users at ResMed's North Ryde site before rollout to 180 staff at the company's new NorWest Business Park contact centre in 2004, the company said.
"We are always on the lookout for technology to help prepare the company for the future, and we believe IP telephony will help us do that," said Shane Finn, ResMed's global IT director. "We've been watching the progress of IP telephony for about two years and decided that it is now robust and scaleable enough to meet our demands."
Fleur Doidge travelled to Forum 12 as a guest of Dimension Data