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HIMSS: Sprint CEO Says Wireless Will Take Health Care 'Out Of The '70s'

'We are entering a time when every device that can be connected will be connected to the Internet and other devices,' says Sprint's Dan Hesse.

Hesse spoke Monday morning at the opening general session for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Atlanta, marking the first time the head of a major wireless company has claimed one of HIMSS' coveted keynote spots.

He urged a packed-to-the-rafters hall of attendees to explore the possibilities of wireless as a way to finally take U.S. health care "out of the '70s."

Hesse argued that the U.S. health-care industry had been slow to adapt to the technological breakthroughs of the past few decades, citing Charles Darwin: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." One of the biggest disconnects, he said, is that the U.S. spends more on on health care than any other country in the industrialized world, but the health-care industry itself spends some 2 percent of its revenue on IT vs. most industries, which spend 6 percent to 8 percent.

The explosion of wireless technologies will dramatically affect the spending equation, he suggested. The growth in IT spending in health care is robust, and wireless apps and solutions will account for two-thirds of new IT spending in the industry.

"There could not be a better time than right now," he said, for wireless technologies to inform-health care technology solutions. Mobile applications can change everything from general patient monitoring and telemedicine to more specific uses like ultrasound probes and video consultations, Hesse said, pointing to statistics that wireless monitoring of patients alone could cut $21 billion in annual health-care spending.

"Wireless networks extend the reach of other technologies," he said.

Hesse also advocated an open strategy for wireless, in that Sprint encourages developers toward wireless app development for devices running on a range of platforms -- from Palm's WebOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry to Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile and Java.

Within health care, he said, wireless would have the greatest effect on chronic disease management; confronting public health problems like pandemics; allowing for better, faster, safer response to events like heart attacks; and creating a new paradigm in home health care, an industry in which, Hesse said, wireless applications will grow from $304 million today to $4 billion by 2013.

The advent of better wireless networks like 4G, he added, also means better security than Wi-Fi and previous iterations, helping organizations achieve HIPAA compliance and meet other regulatory requirements.

It won't just be mobile phones that see the transformative effects of 4G wireless either, Hesse said, adding that of the 2.5 billion data center devices expected to be in use worldwide by 2014, more than half will not be phones, but rather things like TVs, netbooks, remote monitoring devices and videoconferencing tools.

"Imagine home health care with 4G-enabled video cameras," he said. "We are entering a time when every device that can be connected will be connected to the Internet and other devices."

That means new business models, Hesse said, especially around 4G and machine-to-machine communication. Same goes with app development.

"The smart applications aren't going to be developed by Sprint or our main competitors, they're going to be from people focused on wireless applications," he said. "We work very hard to create tools that make it simple for operators to create applications on our networks."

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