Dell's enterprise Streak plan: Target verticals like healthcare

Dell is aiming to take its 5-inch Android Streak into the health-care vertical as part of a broader set of healthcare services and IT gear.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Dell is aiming to take its 5-inch Android Streak into the healthcare industry as part of a broader set of healthcare services and IT gear.

The move is notable given that physicians are already eyeing Apple's iPad as a way to access electronic medical records (EMRs) and network doctors and patients. As previously reported, the iPad is gaining traction in the enterprise; and the healthcare industry, one of the few verticals that adopted tablet PCs, is leading the charge.

Dell's approach will be to use the Streak as part of a broader portfolio and make it part of an integrated IT package of hardware, software and services. In this scenario, doctors may initially drool over the iPad, but the chief information officer and hospital administrators may favor mobile devices in an integrated bundle that can work in a heavily regulated environment. Starting this fall, hospitals and physicians can order the Streak as a part of Dell's EMR and mobile clinical computing product line. Dell is already touting the Streak on its healthcare and life sciences page.

Among the gadget crowd, the Streak may be viewed as something that would play second fiddle to other devices. It's not quite big enough to be a tablet. And it's a bit big for a smartphone. Simply put, the Streak is a tweener. However, the Streak fits into a lab coat nicely, something that can't be said for the iPad. But that's not the real reason the Streak could be a healthcare hit. Dell is a major healthcare IT player via the acquisition of Perot Systems. Via Perot, now Dell Services, the company runs the infrastructure for 350 hospitals or so. Dell also knows the healthcare landscape---ranging from HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996) to smartphone guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration---and hosts applications and integrates healthcare systems. Simply put, the Streak could be a consumer flop (that's yet to be determined) and still be a hit in healthcare.

Related: Dell Streak review: Sizzle or fizzle?

Among the perks Dell is using to push the Streak into healthcare:

  • The Streak will "integrate seamlessly" with Dell's healthcare bundle and will ease compliance via the cloud. Patient data will reside in a data center operated by a hospital or Dell and not the device.
  • The Streak will fit in a lab coat easily.
  • Onboard cameras will allow for photographs that can be added to an EMR.
  • There are diagnostic applications for the patient with chronic conditions.

As devices like tablets become more popular in healthcare, you're likely to hear similar integrated efforts from IT giants. Hewlett-Packard is likely to offer its WebOS tablet in a healthcare bundle too. Given the grass-roots appeal of the iPad in healthcare, the power of the bundle is a necessary requirement. Integrators and IT giants are likely to bring Android tablets to the enterprise as part of a larger portfolio of hardware and services. Integrated packages that comply with a bevy of regulations may win the day.

How will the Streak play in healthcare?

We caught up with Jamie Coffin, general manager of Dell's healthcare business, and Scott Jenkins, a vice president in the unit, to get a feel for how this Streak effort will play out.

Coffin noted that the strategy for Dell, McKesson as well as other players, is to bring as much data to the clinician at the point of care. Vendors, hospitals and physicians have been chasing that goal for a while. However, anyone that has covered healthcare IT for more than 10 minutes knows you run into a rat's nest pretty quickly. Culture, business processes, expenses, standards and regulations all come into play.

Dell's pitch is to provide an integrated package with electronic medical records, HIPAA compliant data delivery and all the data center work that goes into the background. Coffin after a bunch of false starts in healthcare IT, customers want "an integrated stack." When asked about whether the iPad will be disruptive in healthcare, Coffin adds that the end device doesn't wag the infrastructure behind it. "Apple doesn’t know anything about healthcare," said Coffin, who noted that Dell is the largest healthcare IT company in the world right now.

Coffin likened the healthcare IT overhaul to the move to enterprise resource planning systems in the 1990s. Success hinges on change management, workflow and integration. In other words, healthcare IT rides on all the things that Apple generally doesn't want to mess with.

According to Coffin, the Streak can allow doctors to spend more productive time with patients, authenticate once and move to new sessions. If Dell saves two to three minutes for each patient, it can add up quickly for a hospital. The big problem with early EMR implementations was that it slowed physicians down. The challenge with healthcare IT is that you have to convince doctors that changing workflow helps them. Not even stimulus spending has convinced high-end specialists that the IT headaches are worth it.

Will the Streak work in healthcare? Sure, but all the other things---data center, cloud delivery, privacy and security---have to add up first.

Consumerization: A worry or not?

Jenkins got into more of the nuts and bolts of where the Streak fits in.

One use case for the Streak involves a wrist device that measures blood pressure and glucose for a patient with a chronic condition. The Streak takes the data and acts as a liaison between the data center and the patient's results. In addition, the Streak also calibrates the wrist device. With the calibration and validated data, the measurements are more useful to everyone in the healthcare chain.

On the security front, the Streak is loaded with all the passwords and security keys it needs. The device services as a conduit to the records, but doesn't store them (because that would be a HIPAA headache). As for the technology, the Streak is integrated with Citrix applications and medical record software from Allscripts, a leading player in the space.

"The app acts as a display and a liaison to the cloud," explains Jenkins, who adds the patient can direct the information to his EMR or PHR (personal health record).

My next question was whether this scenario could play out on another device, say a Droid X. Jenkins said in principle this concept could work on a Droid, but there are multiple applications involved and smartphones largely feature apps that are glorified xml browsers. "What we're trying to do is evolve what an application can provide," explained Jenkins. It should also be noted that healthcare apps developed by Dell and its partners will be Streak specific. Why? Dell is trying "to develop solutions that you could really deploy," said Jenkins.

In other words, this information could be passed along on other devices, but there are no guarantees it would meet regulatory requirements. A lot of integration and regulatory compliance needs to happen to make that aforementioned scenario a reality. Dell's bet is that real use cases and integration will matter more than gadget lust for some device that doctors will want to bring to work.

Does that mean that consumerization is toast in healthcare? Not necessarily, said Coffin, but "it won't play out the same way." "In a regulated industry, consumerization is a lot harder," he said. "You can't move healthcare data to the client and random devices need to build in security and privacy."

My take: Dell has the opportunity to make the Streak a quasi-BlackBerry in healthcare. Consumerization could catch up to the Streak at some point, but Dell could have a nice running start before it does.

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