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Jewish World Review April 6, 2001 / 13 Nissan, 5761

Elinor Abreu

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Consumer Reports

Doctors with devices -- THREE years ago, Jim Sanderson had a potentially lifesaving idea. Then an X-ray technologist at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., Sanderson realized that if doctors could access patient information from wireless devices, instead of from desktop terminals or handwritten charts, they could do their jobs better and faster.

"I've been there, filling out papers at patient bedsides, then putting (the information) in a computer, and then it goes into another computer," says Sanderson, now a senior systems engineer at Catholic Healthcare West, which owns St. Joseph's. "From the exam to the report it can be hours and hours."

With a bit of funding from the hospital IT department supplemented by his own money, Sanderson began work on his pet project, which he dubbed "remote operation of applications for mobile health care," or ROAM.

He took five Palms, installed AvantGo software on them and attached the handhelds to wireless modems from OmniSky. Connecting to the Net from the Palms was relatively simple. Sanderson soon had the devices accessing mainframe data over the Web and downloading e-mail from a Microsoft Exchange server. But he ran into a roadblock when he sought to keep that data secure and confidential en route.

By law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires health-care companies to ensure patient confidentiality; Sanderson couldn't have medical data zipping from one wireless device to another without building in security.

"We have a Nortel VPN (virtual private network) so our doctors and other employees can log into our network from the outside and have a secure connection," notes Sanderson. The trick was getting the handhelds to work with the VPN.

To do that, Sanderson had to wait until last month, when Certicom began selling MovianVPN, which lets wireless devices securely access data on corporate networks over the Net.

Sanderson still had to tweak the hospital's existing systems to work with the Certicom software, which isn't compatible with all types of network security. For example, the new software doesn't support digital certificates, which Nortel uses to authenticate users. Sanderson had to reconfigure the Nortel software to allow users to log in with just their usernames and passwords. (Future versions of MovianVPN should make such work-arounds unnecessary.)

IT managers at Catholic Healthcare West in Phoenix are now testing Sanderson's handhelds. He also gave one to a radiologist at the Barrows Neurological Institute, who's using it to log into a stroke database. If these tryouts go well, the company may decide to roll out the devices to its 48 hospitals and 38,000 employees in Arizona, California and Nevada.

The implications are significant. "If a patient is in intensive care, the doctor will want to know the most recent blood gases, what types of medications were given and when, and they'll want that information instantly," says Sanderson.

His new device, he adds, "will make diagnosis and treatment much more efficient."

And it will give doctors access to all kind of information - without having to leave a patient's room.

Elinor Abreu writes for The Industry Standard. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS