Android offers a standard platform for health care apps

by Andrew Oram

This was originally published on O’Reilly Media’s Strata blog, February 25, 2013.

Video systems can streamline hospital care in all sorts of ways from displaying messages ("Quiet time is 1 to 2 PM today") to taking patient surveys, showing patients their X-Rays, and helping patients view their records from their beds. But most of these systems lie outside the budgets of small and rural hospitals. Healthcare Information is halving the costs of the systems, largely by deploying Android in their sets, and is selling them to smaller healthcare institutions that could not afford them before. The use of Android also permits hospitals to choose among the hundreds of thousands of standard apps available in App Stores.

I got a cool tour from my laptop, pretending to be at the nurses station, of their MediaCare tool, which controls Android Roommates. From my browser I could see all the Android TVs in the facility, turn them on or off, change channels or volume, and see what patients are using them for. The last action sounds Orwellian, but it’s very useful to be able to check whether a patient viewed the orientation video or filled out a survey about his pain level. By documenting the delivery of patient information this way hospitals can demonstrate their compliance with pay-for-performance metrics, and surveying patients on site can help healthcare facilities be proactive in managing the patient experience to ensure patients are satisfied with their care. Equally important were comprehensive functions I couldn’t experiment with, such as loading a new app on all systems.

Among the apps hospitals can use are:

David Bishop, vice president of marketing for Healthcare Information, credits the flexibility of Android with reducing the development costs for their systems. The Android Roommate is a wall-mounted system, specially hardened so it can be cleaned safely, but Healthcare Information has just announced an Android Bedmate system that is suspended above the patient and includes a camera so the patient and caregiver can interact without traveling. The patient controls the Bedmate through its touchscreen, whereas she can interact with the wall-mounted Roommate through the same device she uses to contact a nurse (as well as a keyboard).

View a demonstration video of the Bedmate.

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