Smartphone Strategy May Cause Health Data Interoperability Problems

Posted on July 13, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Tonight I was out at my local electronics store looking over the latest in Samsung gear. While chatting with the salesman behind the Samsung counter, I picked up a wireless charging pad and asked what it cost. “Don’t bother,” he said. “That won’t work with your phone,” which happens to be a none-too-old Galaxy Note Edge.

New batteries? Same problem. I strongly suspect that the lovely VR gear, headset and smart watch on display suffer from the same limitations. And heaven knows that these devices wouldn’t work with products produced by other Android-compatible manufacturers.

Now, I am no communications industry expert. So I won’t hold forth on whether Samsung’s decision to create a network of proprietary devices is a smart strategy or not. Intuitively, my guess is that the giant manufacturer is making a mistake in trying to lock in customers this way, but I don’t have data upon which to base that claim.

But when it comes to health IT, it’s clearer to me how things might play out. And I’d argue that Samsung’s emerging strategy should generate concern among providers.

Interconnecting proprietary tech is far from new. In fact, Apple long ago won the battle to force its users onto its proprietary platform, and AFAIK, the computing and media giant has never back down from the stance, including where its telecommunications gear was concerned. But at least until recently, we’ve had interoperable Android phones and tablets to work with, which ran on a freely-available operating system that played nicely with other devices running the system.

But with the device maker moving away from “works on Android” to “works on Samsung Android devices,” the chain of interoperability is broken. This could lead to shifts in the telecommunications industry which don’t bode well for healthcare users.

On the surface, we are only looking at relatively petty IT concerns for HIT leaders, such as seeing to it that the Samsung user gets a Samsung charging pad. Like enterprises in other industries, health leaders will adapt to this inconvenience. But the problems don’t stop there.

If telecommunications manufacturers follow Samsung’s lead, and decide to add proprietary quirks to their devices, providers may pay the price. Depending on how these newly-proprietary devices are configured, and how they must be supported, it could become much harder to dig data out of them on an ongoing basis. That’s the last thing we need right now.

Not only that, what happens if proprietary differences between Android phones and tablets make it harder for them to communicate with medical devices, a tantalizing possibility which is just beginning to present itself? While we don’t yet know how devices such as infusion pumps to interoperate with mobile devices, nor the latter two with desktops, wearables and servers, we don’t want to close off options.

Bottom line, I may be crying wolf too soon, but these developments alarm me. I’d hate to see additional walls go up between various data sources, particularly before we even know what we can do with them.