Monthly Archives: August 2009

How Android devices can leapfrog the iPhone

I love my iPhone and it’s a great platform for delivering all kinds of applications. Just like the ad says, there is an app for everything (at least it seems like that). The bottleneck, however, is the AppStore and Apple’s stranglehold on the device. You can’t just re-purpose the device without jail-breaking. The iPhone is versatile, yet, constrained. If you look at the numbers published here on GigaOM, you can see the extent of iPhone’s market and its economy. Android or any other device has a lot of catching up to do.

However, I think there is opportunity here for Android to completely blindside Apple and make Android devices indispensable. Google can do that, not by courting consumers, but by collaborating with makers of complex software systems like HMSes (Hospital Management Systems).

A hospital is a complex system and a truly integrated solution is mind-boggling. It takes a lot of brain power to comprehend the enormity of implementing such a project at even a mid-size hospital. There are processes within processes and to top that everything is highly regulated. It’s a question of life or death. Literally.

The typical architecture of HISes (Hospital Information Systems) is client-server, mostly implemented in Java. Large established hospitals still run mainframes but the basic architecture is client-server. The textbook approach of modernizing such “legacy” systems is to go the web applications route with a heavy mix of web-services to make everything “service-oriented”. You would probably throw in lots of JSP (Java Server Pages) pages and expect them to run in a browser. So the browser becomes your client accessing the application functionality. Then, you sprinkle the campus with desktops running browsers and you have your setup.

My proposal is this. Instead of using $500 desktop based browser clients to access system functionality why not access the functionality from $200 Android devices? Heck, with bulk orders, these could even cost about $100. These devices will access the required functionality via Android apps. Just imagine what would happen if Google and McKesson were to collaborate. McKesson’s Paragon Community HIS can dole out app features via Android apps. Google could subsidize these devices and could reduce the overall implementation cost of the system. Granted not all application features can be appified. (I invented this word, if anyone patents it, you heard it first here). But I suspect most of the features can be. So instead of nurses or hospital staff needing to go back to their stations to access the system, they can whip out their Android devices, and perform their tasks right at the point of the service. No need to make entries on paper charts and then transfer them into the system back at the station. Just tap them into the device. Throw in a pico-projector into the device and you have the option of viewing the data on a large screen. Like, say, you want to view the blood glucose chart of a patient or the vital signs charts. The possibilities are endless.

So instead of trying to create web clients or thin desktop clients, makers of complex software systems should focus their effort on developing downloadable android apps of their applications’ functionality. And McKesson, if you are looking for someone to lead up such an effort, you know where to find me.

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Putting Microsoft Tag to meaningful use

I while back my colleague and I were discussing how far the bar code has come and how there are different kinds of bar codes and how a lot of information is being packed into those humble stripes. I had read that in Japan, advertisers put black and white matrix on posters and you can take a picture of the code using your mobile phone and get additional information or coupons for the service. People will figure our ingenious ways to put technology to good use.

I came to know the existence of Microsoft Tag via Glen Gordon. I downloaded Microsoft Tag Reader iPhone app and played with it a little. Toyed around with a few ideas and planned a project that could use it. Then I got busy at work. There is so much stuff to do at work that I find it hard to work on any of the personal projects.

This afternoon @lizasisler tweeted about Microsoft Tag and wondered how it could be used to better Health Care. We exchanged a couple of ideas.

@lizasisler: Saw @MicrosoftTag @ #WPC09 Neat printable interactive barcode technology http://www.microsoft.com/tag/ Thoughts on good #Healthcare uses?

@rsringeri: @lizasisler @MicrosoftTag have med devices display MS Tags that can be snapped with mobile app to upload to @HealthVault.

@lizasisler: @rsringeri Nice! Think there could be great @MicrosoftTag uses in Healthcare – drug/equipment uses/education etc

@rsringeri: @lizasisler agree. Instead of the paper manual in the box, put a MS Tag on the device that takes you to the device’s home page on you iPhone

@lizasisler: @rsringeri What abt using @MicrosoftTag as emergency gateway to @HealthVault information. Click on tag interact with/access HealthVault?

@rsringeri: @lizasisler emgcy access is a great idea. My @HealthVault should have a section where I can put in non-stealable data, get a tag, ….

@rsringeri: @lizasisler … snap tag from mobile device and download vital emgcy data to Healthcare prof’s device. Blood Group, diabetic, allergies

Here are some ideas for meaningful use of Microsoft Tag in Health Care

  • Medical devices like BP and Blood Glucose meters can display, in addition to numbers, an MS Tag with the data encoded. I can then whip out my MS Tag reader app on my iPhone, snap a pic and upload the data to my Health Vault repository. No cables to fumble. No PC to connect the device to. Instead of trying to make the device Internet enabled, just modify the screen to display an MS Tag. And if I happen to use multiple devices to manage my health I don’t have to buy cables for each of these devices and connect them to a computer one after another. Most device manufacturers do not bundle a cable to connect the device to a computer.
  • Instead of including product manuals, instructions with med devices, just put couple of MS Tags on the device. Whip out the Tag reader app again, snap the pic and the iPhone can now play a video demo of the device or load a PDF manual, with click enables links.
  • Enable Health Vault to create an MS Tag that encapsulates data that I decide to make available to emergency medical personnel. I could carry a MS Tag card in my wallet (or a dog tag) that can be used by medical personnel to gather vitals stats like blood group, allergy information in situations where I may be unable to communicate that info.
  • The above idea can be expanded to create a portable medical record I can carry for my visit. Prior to my doc visit, I logon to Health Vault, select a bunch of data points, export that as an MS Tag, save the tag on my iPhone, and assign an expiration date to it. At the doc’s office, the doc or other Health care personnel can “read” the encoded information using a MS Tag Reader. I don’t have to print anything nor do I have to logon to a computer at the doc’s office to make the information available.
  • Put MS Tags on medication bottles. Snap pics of all the medications and an app can figure out and warn about potential drug interactions. Couple that with data from med devices and the app can alert you – hey your blood sugar is high pop this pill from your prescription

These are just a few ideas I dumped from my brain. What’s yours? With the availability of Microsoft Tag API here, I guess it’s only a matter of time before we see some implementations.

Update:

Check out Vizitag, their blog and follow them on Twitter. Interesting applications of Microsoft Tag and bar codes.


pixels2soundBytes – End of an experiment

I am a huge fan of Scott Hanselman and religiously listen to Hanselminutes, one of the best technical podcasts. I also enjoyed the short lived science focused The Brainfood podcast. Podcasts were all the rage couple of years ago and everyday brought a new one. I wanted to join in on the fun and given that I am not as eloquent as Scott or Jeff Atwood of codinghorror and stackoverflow.com fame, I figured I could piggy back on the success of technology leaders and create a podcast. I first contacted Scott and he was gracious enough to respond to my email.

My idea was to render interesting blog posts and articles written by industry leaders like Scott, Jeff and, others as audio. My premise was, given the relentless march of technology we seldom find time to read articles. So I posited that I could convert hand picked (by me) blog posts and articles to audio and make them available as podcasts that you can listen to driving to work or fixing breakfast. Scott alerted me to odiogo a service that can convert written text to audio. It does a good job. Check it out. I brushed Scott’s hint aside and contacted some of my favorite bloggers and requested their permission to use their blog posts and articles in my podcast. Everyone granted me permission and I was thrilled.

I borrowed a studio quality from my colleague Greg Johnson and with music from The Podsafe Music Network (now musicAlley), Audacity and an account on libsyn, I put together the podcast. My co-workers listened and encouraged me. Finding great articles to render as audio was easy given the caliber of bloggers I had permission from. However, interest has, at best been, muted. Only 325 downloads. That’s for all 11 episodes. Hanselminutes logs that number is the first 5 minutes of being uploaded.

Of late, given extreme pressure at work and my interest in Healthcare IT and iPhone apps, it’s been hard to find time to research and put together an episode of pixels2soundBytes. It takes me a week to put together an episode, which includes time needed to find the articles, render them as audio, edit the recording, and compose an episode with music. I have become an expert in Audacity.

So, with no time to spare, I have decided to end the experiment and will close my podcast account with libsyn. If you are looking for a cheap podcast host, libsyn is a no-frills, affordable excellent host. The basic account costs $6/- per month and is more than enough for a budding podcast.

I would like to thank the following technology leaders for granting me permission to use their blog posts and articles in my experiment. I really appreciate all your help.

I would also like to thank my colleague Greg Johnson for lending me a great studio quality microphone. Thanks are also due to Scott Hanselman for responding to ALL my emails.

Last but not least, a big thank you to all those who downloaded pixels2soundBytes and tolerated my accented rendering of great blog posts and articles. Thanks for your support.