Among the news this week is demographics: human population has reached 7 billion. Yet while that number will continue to grow, populations in mature economies, especially, are aging. That demographic fact is very important to today's smart wireless device (SWD) designers, whether software, hardware or the more important middleware.
Smartphones are, well, smart
With the continued increase in penetration of smartphones and similar SWDs, there are again questions as to whether or not smartphones' phenomenal growth can continue (cf. this report from Forbes, although compare to this story from Wall Street Journal). To answer one part of this question, if you recognize that penetration also equates to high user confidence and familiarity with SWDs and add to that device acceptance the fact of aging populations in mature economies, plus continued support by those governments to promote electronic health records (EHR) and remote monitoring, you end up looking at a significant demand driver for smartphones and SWDs. But beyond the aging population is the other side of the human population growth: more healthcare regardless of where you are or your age.
There is a new place for the smartphone and SWD in people's lives, and it is also beyond the confines of the mature economies. Regardless of wealth or location, people need healthcare and healthcare workers need access to diagnostic tools and resources. Enter the new world of care and data delivered remotely. We understand the role of various portable/field medical devices; now with the increased acceptance of EHR, software application proliferation for smartphones and SWDs (such as tablet PCs), and the need for people to access healthcare either at all or at more affordable rates, there is an increase in remote clinical access (such as this SMS medical reminder program to help patients in Africa reported by PhysOrg; this new program in the US through drug-stores reported by ComputerWorld) or government sponsored programs supporting EHR for improved patient care across multiple specialists (such as this example also from ComputerWorld).
A new meaning to 'House Call'
The rise in unassisted as well as remote medical care by SWDs is significant and thus far proving successful (e.g., for monitoring, dispensing, controlling, and aiding in physical and cognitive rehabilitation/therapy, such as this example from InformationWeek). This care is generally provided through dedicated SWDs, customized healthcare software applications, and/or through implanted or worn medical electronic devices. The monitoring of the devices is then carried out through SWDs and remote and/or live consults with healthcare providers who have received the patient's data previously. This brings us to a new version of the once-upon-a-time house call by the local medical practitioner.
The consumer side to this evolving convergence of healthcare and SWDs, and the synergies gained in improved patient outcomes, has been one of demand and positive experiences based on research and patient tracking (e.g., this report from InformationWeek, this report from MedicalXpress, and this article from ComputerWorld). Similarly, in the US, there continues to be stimulus money for medical records to move to be electronically handled. With the rise of 'eHealth Apps' now, comes the question of the role of government approval and guidelines for medical applications of technology, from mobile apps, to virtual and remote physician 'house calls', and on to more traditionally governed implantable medical devices.
eHealth a boon for SWD and smartphones
What is apparent from this still relatively emergent adoption of technology in (remote) medical/patient care is that the demand from the consumer (patient) side is strong and in favor of the adoption and expansion of offerings. Similarly, the medical professional side is long accustomed to the synergies gained from technology in the surgical arena and is, by and large, in support of expanding these benefits to better serve patients. The business side of the medical field are seeing means to increase patient touch and monitoring after office or hospital visits while finding appropriate and responsible ways to cut costs and maximize their health professionals' time and their resources (see this report from Wall Street Journal regarding changes to US health care affordability).
In short, regardless of the outcome of current concern over the duration of the smartphone demand for traditional consumer and business use, it is clear that these powerful electronics devices, along with the rest of the SWDs, have an essential and critical role to play to serve the medical needs of people everywhere. In that sense, there will always be demand and the opportunities for growth, customization and improvement from the semiconductor and electronics industry.