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The Smartphone Alternative

In some healthcare settings, smartphones have turned out to be the best mobile option. At UPMC Mercy, part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital network, CIO Bruce Haviland started deploying a BlackBerry-based mobile alert system for nurses in October, replacing various wireless phones and text pagers. The system provides the voice and short text messages that nurses can easily access on the move. The 290 BlackBerrys don't leave the hospital. Nurses check them out and in at the beginning and end of their shifts, doing all their data communications over Wi-Fi and using the cellular network only for voice calls.

Portability was a key issue for Haviland. "I'm a little skeptical about using an iPad or notepad-type device, even if it might fit in their pocket. We can only strap so much on them," he says.

UPMC is still "at a fairly early stage" of defining its mobile strategy, says Dr. Rasu Shrestha, VP of medical IT. The iPad doesn't have the level of support UPMC is used to getting from vendors like Microsoft, Shrestha says. "In the Apple world, that's not very clearly defined." However, doctors who buy iPads and want to use them in their work can apply to access the hospital system's network, he says.

Apple declined to make an executive available to discuss healthcare applications, instead pointing to customers and users as the ones who can tell the iPad story best.

UPMC is also focusing on systems integration and application development to meet clinical needs, Shrestha says. One initiative is to replace the traditional alphanumeric pager message with a "smart page" that a physician can use, with a minimum number of clicks, from his BlackBerry to see why he was paged and look up the most relevant information about a patient. Some of the prerequisites are in place, such as a service- oriented architecture integration platform that's already used to let physicians look up patient records from their BlackBerrys, he says.

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