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Wi-Fi use in health care highest in U.S.

Use of wireless technology in medicine grew 60% globally over the past year. With a 50% uptick, the United States still led all other countries.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted July 12, 2010

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More than 500,000 wireless, or "Wi-Fi," local area networks will be implemented in the U.S. health care market this year, representing a 50% increase from a year ago, a recent report showed.

Globally, Wi-Fi technology in health care increased 60%, according to the report by ABI Research, a technology market research firm based in New York City.

The U.S. is still ahead of every other region analyzed by ABI. By 2015, the company, which analyzes shipment data to make market predictions in various technology sectors, expects Wi-Fi technology in the U.S. health market to nearly double the 2010 figure to more than 1 million new Wi-Fi LAN access points. Wi-Fi is a term used to describe a local network that sends and receives information electronically using only radio waves.

For its recent study, ABI looked at shipments of wireless LAN access points, or communication hubs that collect and transit wireless data, to the health care sector.

Wi-Fi networks are being used for things such as communication inside hospitals, where cellular networks are sometimes less reliable or prohibited. The technology allows physicians to use laptops and handheld devices.

In addition to Wi-Fi networks, the health care industry also is seeing a wide use of wireless applications such as wearable sensors. These sensors can be worn on a patient's body and can transmit data wirelessly to a monitoring device. The technology is being used not only for tracking patient flow but also for remote patient monitoring.

Low-energy, Bluetooth technology is expected to lead to a greater increase in the use of wireless sensors as it is embedded into wireless devices such as cell phones. The technology enables short transmission of data without draining the devices' batteries.

The technology is gaining use in sports and fitness applications, such as exercise monitors or calorie counters, that work with smartphones, said Jonathan Collins, principal analyst for ABI. The market is expanding to include monitors for patients' vitals or symptoms, and such reports could be sent wirelessly to physicians.

"The growing number of wireless technologies and wireless applications being developed, piloted and deployed within health care further underlines the level of interest in using wireless to improve the flexibility and efficiency of health care services around the world," Collins said.

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