It’s amazing how history repeats itself.
Years ago, I worked with Wang Laboratories, a Massachusetts company that pioneered word processing back in the 1970s. At that time, word processing was available in two formats: a software application running on an expensive computer, and a designated, one-application device specifically for word processing.
Numerous computer companies attempted to convert secretaries using typewriters to computer users, an idea that flopped miserably, causing the companies offering that solution to opt out of the market. Meanwhile, word processors that were sold as a new office tool exclusively for word processing had tremendous success. Wang was most successful, becoming the darling of Wall Street with revenues of $3 billion and 33,000 employees at its peak.
Fast forward to the early 1980s and the advent of the personal computer. The market suddenly recognized that word processing was simply an application running on a computer, and other applications such as spreadsheets, overhead presentation software, and simple database files could all connect to each other. It seemed as if overnight, single-function word processors became obsolete, and Wang began to lose market share. The company ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 1992.
Today, we are seeing a replay as legacy telephones used by hospitals are losing their luster. These single-function devices can make calls, and may receive alarms. While some have texting, their numeric keyboards make it impractical for widespread use by busy nurses.
Smartphones, on the other hand, are inexpensive, handheld computers for which voice is simply one application. Just as the PC added numerous uses, the smartphone can be used for alarms, sophisticated texting apps designed just for nurses, and a plethora of medical apps like medical directories and pill identifiers. In the near future, a bar code reader for medication administration, a tool to access and update electronic medical records (EMR), and even a flashlight will all be available from this single device.
The floodgates are just beginning to open on smartphones as the nurse’s tool of choice, with early adopters singing their praises and EMR vendors looking at new ways to provide easy and efficient access to valuable digital records. For these forward-thinkers, the future is now. For others, it is time to rethink your communication choice: Continue to invest in legacy devices or prepare for the coming smartphone revolution.
Without computing capability, a software development kit and a large community of developers, legacy telephone devices are bound to follow standalone word processors in the graveyard of obsolescence.