The Rise, and Importance, of Wi-Fi in Healthcare

Today’s discussions around healthcare IT usually revolve around devices, data and analytics. It’s hard to remember, but let’s not forget that in the early 2000s a technology came along that revolutionized communications overall: Wi-Fi.

Wireless communication was a game-changer for healthcare environments, and still is today. The launch of broadband communication somewhere around 2003 freed clinicians from Ethernet cables and having to be tethered to a chord to connect. Wi-Fi enabled a whole new way of computing and enabled an amazing amount of progress to take place. For example, wireless connectivity gave doctors and nurses the ability to: compute on-the-go, access vital data; provide decisions support and collaboration, and access remote video conferencing. These capabilities, and the devices that are used, would not be possible without Wi-Fi. It’s astounding to stop and think about that and look back at how compute went from the desktop to the mobile device. That’s true innovation.

The introduction of Wi-Fi has also led to the second and third order opportunities, like the freeing of healthcare from within institutions. Care delivery can occur anywhere and in multiple mediums thanks to wireless connectivity.

As to where we go next with Wi-Fi, my thought is that we have just scratched the surface. From a healthcare delivery perspective, Wi-Fi (and other forms of wireless RF) will continue to fuel the rise of business intelligence and clinical decision support algorithms that are going to eventually take on more and more human characteristics. It won’t be long before patients can type in a query and get a response from a human interface.

Every time I think about where healthcare technology might go, I believe we’re inadvertently influenced by the vision of Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame. How did he know 50 years ago that humans would be talking to computers to gather information? I’ve read many stories on how the cell phones were conceived and made a reality by Trekkies who grew up wanting to have a pocket communication device. The early flip phones were not that far off.

So when I think of that vision of where wireless will go, that's what comes to mind. Wi-Fi will be the enabler of a human-machine interface that is going to meld and it's going to be on the go. It's going to be mobile. And if patients have healthcare issues, questions, or concerns, they'll be dealt with and answered with near immediacy as the result of this freeing us from wired platforms.

What do you think? Where will Wi-Fi/wireless connectivity, take healthcare in the future?