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Spacelabs targets consumers with new Web-based products

Spacelabs targets consumers with new Web-based products

Spacelabs targets consumers with new Web-based products

Monitoring firm launches blood pressure site

Like its longtime rival Agilent, Spacelabs Medical is busy Web- and wireless-enabling its standard patient monitoring and related product lines these days as part of an overall strategy to broaden its customer base. But Spacelabs has also begun an aggressive move into the consumer space with LifeClinic.com, a Web site that allows consumers to track blood pressure readings online. The Redmond, WA-based firm sees its expertise in systems integration and clinical products as a springboard for wooing new customers outside of its traditional markets and increasing its bottom line.

Spacelabs was founded in 1958 to assist the U.S. Air Force in making systems to monitor astronauts’ vital signs. The firm went on to create multiple types of monitors for the critical- and ambulatory-care environments and subsequently expanded its product offerings to include clinical information systems, clinical data repositories, and anesthesia delivery systems.

The company took a more direct route to systems integration than many of its competitors, however, by creating its own protocol, the Universal Flexport Protocol, which allows its Universal Care Network monitors to access data from any third-party devices configured for UFP (the firm provides the specifications free of charge). Data gathered by Ultraview Care Network monitors can then be viewed on any monitor, accessed by other devices hooked into the network, and stored in a clinical data repository. To date, more than 85 devices have been set up with UFP-capable interfaces, according to Roy Hays, vice president of product development.

Wireless comes into play with the Ultraview Clinical Messenger, a paging system that works to transmit alarms to clinicians via one-way Motorola pagers, the newest capability of Ultraview. The company is looking at expanding this capability beyond paging devices, but Hays says they are hesitant to use cell phones inside the hospital at this point because of interference with other equipment.

“We have a wireless Ethernet strategy,” he said. “Our current offering allows data from one monitor to be transmitted and reviewed on another monitor. The recent FCC ruling setting a specific band for use by medical telemetry products will have some effect—it’s a little up in the air where to go next with patient-worn telemetry.”

In the wireless standards battle, Spacelabs is considering both Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11b, according to Hays. As the FCC makes more frequencies available, the firm plans to aggressively move into the new bands with its wireless products and claims to be the first company offering digital telemetry devices complying with the FCC’s Wireless Medical Telemetry Service band that was created on June 8.

As for the Internet, Spacelabs is Webifying its clinical products but also looking to make its name known in the consumer marketplace with lifeclinic.com. This Web site grew out of Spacelabs’ Vitastat division, which provides blood pressure monitors for the retail market.

“A Web site was the next natural extension of blood pressure readings, providing more information about blood pressure, allowing users to store information and to have a family health record,” Hays said. “We felt we didn’t need drkoop.com because we wanted to do something unique. Most of those e-health sites are broad and unfocused. We think there’s value in more focus.”

The firm has introduced its first Vitastat blood pressure e-kiosk with Web access and hopes these machines will boost use of the Web site. In addition, the company sees the database behind lifeclinic.com as the backbone of an ASP offering.

“We’ve looked at being an ASP, talked to some customers about that model,” Hays said. “It’s not clear how many customers would choose that, but with lifeclinic, we’ve demonstrated that we can do it. That’s our ASP model, and it’s free to consumers.”

New revenue sources are key to helping Spacelabs boost its bottom line. The firm posted a net loss of $3 million for the first quarter of this year, compared to net income of $1.8 million for the first quarter of 1999. The company blames both Y2K and Medicare reimbursement concerns for the downturn in its financials. The launch of the lifeclinic site also contributed to the reduced earnings, according to CEO Carl Lombardi, although Hays says the investment is a relatively small one for Spacelabs.

“Lifeclinic is, so far, immaterial as far as costs to the bottom line,” Hays said. “It’s an important project, but its cost is a small percentage for a company the size of Spacelabs.”

Disclosures

 
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