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Cellular Technology Extends the Boundaries of E-healthcare

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Wireless technologies has been of immense value to medical practitioners, enabling them to increase productivity and improve the availability of quality healthcare globally. However, while mobile technology undoubtedly adds value to healthcare, the question is whether advances in technology pose a security threat, as information transmitted across a network should be accessible only to authorized users worldwide.

Healthcare systems today rely on various applications that improve patient recovery and render clinical services more effective. The main applications in this category include Electronic Health Records (EHR), Computerised Physician Order Entry (CPOE), Decision Support System (DSS) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS).

"All these four applications have allowed the healthcare system to effectively adapt to the requirements of a volatile healthcare environment," note Frost & Sullivan Research Analysts Jayashree Rajagopal and Luke Thomas in new analysis titled 'Is E-healthcare Secure in the Hands of Cellular Technology?' "However, their success depends on the network through which information is transmitted."

The various technologies used for the transmission of information in healthcare include the Public Switched Telephony Network (PSTN), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), cellular, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth. Most organisations choose technologies for different applications based on throughput, quality, cost and security.

Among these, security is perceived and understood to be a major concern for all stakeholders involved in the healthcare sector. With the evolution of GSM to 3G, various security features have been enhanced and implemented to protect the integrity of the user.

"Such security features will enable cellular technology to gain a competitive advantage over various wireless alternatives as cellular technologies operate in the licensed band providing guaranteed quality of service," remarks Thomas. "This is not the case with unlicensed technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) and RFID."

Currently, Wi-Fi is one of the most widely deployed wireless technologies in hospitals. However, this technology has several challenges with regard to range, security and quality of service (QoS) which can be effectively addressed by next generation cellular technologies such as HSPA and 3G LTE.

Applications such as EHR, CPOE, DSS and PACS utilise sensitive and personal information. Hence, the transfer of such information requires a highly robust, secure and reliable environment to be maintained not only within a country but world-wide as well.

"With the convergence of IT and cellular, high throughput and low bandwidth cryptographic algorithms need to be developed to exchange information across various devices, applications and networks," explains Rajagopal. "In order to tap this opportunistic market, the cellular ecosystem would need to implement an efficient network protocol that will ensure the security of applications used and information transmitted within the healthcare sector."

In the current economic climate, hospitals strive to reduce their operating expenditure (OPEX) and consider various wireless alternatives that can accommodate all of their applications and services across various networks.

"Hence, if mobile operators succeed in addressing OPEX savings with cellular technologies (currently embedded in several client devices of different form factors), that alone could entice hospitals to conduct effective trials with operators," concludes Thomas. "However, to be successful, not only do mobile operators need to demonstrate the value-added benefits of enhanced security and QoS over traditional WiFi networks but also create new business models to demonstrate ROI," adds Rajagopal.

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Tags: opex  security  wifi  health  radio frequency