Cisco Changing to Support Health Care

Many things have changed at Cisco since they were visited by the FDA in 2006. Awhile back Kent Gray, global lead for Healthcare Solutions at Cisco, explained to me that the FDA was responding to a brochure produced by Cisco that included a photo of a 7921 handset displaying a patient monitor alarm and associated waveform. The FDA observed that the photo represented labeling of a Class III medical device for which Cisco did not have regulatory approval. Thus began a crash course in the health care school of hard knocks for Cisco.

To Cisco’s credit they have since made many substantive changes to their traditional approach to vertical market marketing in response to the special requirements of health care. During the AAMI conference this week in San Jose, I had a chance to meet with Erik Petersen, the Global Healthcare Solutions & Technology Partnerships Manager, to talk about what Cisco’s been doing in health care.

Health care has strategic importance to Cisco. After their run in with the FDA – a rite of passage for health care vendors – Cisco’s commitment to the market was confirmed by no less than CEO John Chambers.

As a corporation that has experienced enviable growth, the company is grappling with the transition from a $40 billion company to one doing $60 billion. “Cisco wants to offer a strong proactive value proposition in health care,” said Petersen, “rather than just providing a piece of infrastructure that the customer has to deal with for an overall project.” To meet their growth objectives, the company is shifting from a horizontal market company to one focused on vertical markets and applications. To us in health care, this means responding to the unique requirements of our vertical market.

Cisco – Registered Medical Device Vendor

In the past couple years, Cisco has established a health care regulatory affairs group and hired experienced regulatory folks. Cisco has registered with the FDA as a medical device vendor and has been audited by the FDA twice since this registration. More surprising, Cisco has submitted the 7921 wireless handset as a Class I medical device for use with nurse call systems, laboratory information systems, building alarms, and two imaging filings (here and here).

To this observer, embracing the unique requirements of the health care market is exactly what horizontal vendors must do – if they don’t want to become marginalized as technology continues to get closer to the point of care. With recent pronouncements by the FDA, regulatory requirements are clearly moving in this direction. I’m not aware of any other big infrastructure vendor (other network vendors, Microsoft, Dell or HP) who has stepped up like Cisco.

Time will tell how effectively Cisco can leverage this encouraging change into meaningful (and competitive) solutions to some of health care’s hardest problems. Early signs of this change can be seen in Cisco’s in-depth validation of health care applications.

Cisco Validated Designs

The CVD program takes specific applications (from one or more technology partners) and provides a validated reference design or implementation of the solution. To date, Cisco has validated two health care applications, the Imatis messaging system and Acuo Technologies DICOM Services Grid software. After presenting a description of the application and its architecture, CVD documents dig into design requirements specific to the application. For example, in the Imatis messaging CVD, design requirements for quality of service, high availability and wireless network are tested, validated and documented. The final product is a detailed implementation guide for resellers, systems integrators and customers. There is real value to validating a specific design and ensuring that important requirements are met.

Another CVD effort centers around integrating medical devices to Cisco networks. Cisco is presently developing a program, called AssureWave, that will result in validated network designs. AssureWave will emphasize redundancy, failover, resilience, and wireless performance for life-critical applications. The first group of vendors to go through this program include GE Healthcare, Philips, Draeger, and Welch Allyn.

The CVD process takes Cisco and the solution vendors months to complete, and must be updated when new releases of the products in the design become available. A similar program, Solution Reference Network Designs, provides detailed design documentation for specific applications like (all links to pdf documents) a High Availability Design Guide, Enterprise QoS Solution Reference Network Design Guide, Wi-Fi Location-Based Services Design Guide, and various documents on security and mobility (roaming across access points and subnets). The upcoming international standard for networked medical devices, IEC 80001, would make a great topic for a future Cisco reference document of some kind.

Ongoing Change

Managing this next stage of growth is a big challenge for Cisco. They are not the nimble company they were $30 billion ago, nor can they simply extend their considerable acquisition prowess into deeper vertical market support. Cisco will have to build industry business units with deep vertical market knowledge and tight integration into Cisco R&D to create network gear and applications that meet market requirements. It sounds like Cisco is moving in the right direction.

There is also a role in all this for providers. There are many hospitals world wide pushing the boundaries of technology in an effort to reduce costs and improve patient safety and outcomes. Providers can contribute by documenting requirements and facilitating vendor communications. Recently Rick Hampton at Partners HealthCare brought together a group of vendors to work through some problems with wireless medical devices on their Cisco network . These meetings have resulted in the first AssureWave project involving medical devices. Hampton’s efforts should eventually benefit both Partners and the health care industry as a whole. More hospitals need to step up like Partners, and bring vendors together to resolve connectivity and integration issues.

UPDATE: I have added links to Cisco’s filings in the FDA Registration and Listing database.



  1. David Hoglund

    Well put Tim. It it long overdue by Cisco to finally try to embrace the needs of the medical device community. They understand the growth of the healthcare vertical, thus why. I do feel that this should not be limited to Cisco, but have an actual IEEE standard developed for medical devices and wireless networks. Vendor specific although good, is not the long term answer.

  2. Hi Tim,

    While it has taken Cisco some time and considerable resource to get to this point, I think that they are committed to the healthcare market. Their willingness to go beyond infrastructure and into the complexities of clinical medicine is commendable, but only time will tell how they will deal with becoming a medical device company a huge telecom corporate environment.

    As one who has “swum” in both the healthcare and telecom oceans, the telecom “culture” has a lot of inbred comfort with equipment and services for the broad, horizontal market. Many have struggled technologically and organizationally with specific verticals only to circle around them time and again with no real depth. Distribution channels and sales alliances tend to be a common way to really penetrate them.

    I really enjoyed your insights and would love to chat with you some time on the subject.


    Marj Stoltz
    Principal, Chasca Consulting, LLC
    Digital Health Strategies & Solutions

  3. Tim,

    Great article about Cisco! Thanks….

    It is interesting how Intel, Cisco, Google and Microsoft are all making moves into healthcare IT. I agree with previous post that these tech giants tend to oversimplify the healthcare verticle and end up circling the market.

    Do you think Cisco’s AssureWave has applicability in an outpatient setting as a viable device connectivity pathway?

    Thomas Schwieterman MD
    Director of R&D
    Midmark Corporation

  4. While Cisco should receive kudos for moving in the right direction, it should be noted that they have a very long way to go before shortcomings are eliminated.

    Regarding AssureWave, this program’s applicability overall is very limited. AssureWave is basically a marketing vehicle and may end up delivering little or no value to either Cisco, medical device vendors, or their customers.

    The ambulatory (outpatient) market is not Cisco’s focus, nor do I imagine that they generate much revenue outside of hospitals. Consequently, this program may eventually extend into the ambulatory market, but probably not for some time.

  5. Lynda Bennick


    I am a retired Navy BMET without a CBET certificate. My degree is a BS in Healthcare Management. My primary niche has been Software QA in Medical Devices and EMRs. Over the past 15 years I have become very interested in ‘connectology’ and interoperability issues in Healthcare. Recently I was approved to receive additional education through a VA program. I found your article while researching CISCO. I have decided to widen my possibilities by attending DeVry and ultimately acquiring CISCO certifications, and PMI certifications. I would be interested in your thoughts on what type of career preparation and training one needs to help healthcare facilities achieve maximum interoperability. I believe my background in biomedical equipment and healthcare administration would be most valuable to an informatics team. Suggestions?

  6. Steve Baker

    Are you sure of the accuracy? I checked and there it indicates Cisco is registered as a specification developer. Yes, they can honestly report, “Cisco is a FDA registered company” but that doesn’t make them a medical device manufacturer.

  7. Steve,

    Cisco is not a medical device manufacturer like Welch Allyn, Spacelabs, CareFusion or Philips — and it is not likely they ever will be. I this respect, I agree with you fully.

    But as a horizontal market technology manufacturer, I think they’ve taken a significant step towards offering meaningful vertical market solutions for health care by stepping up to be regulated by the FDA. I’m not aware of any other networking or IT that have made this kind of commitment. Heck, most of the health care IT companies don’t want to make this kind of commitment.

    Cisco’s initial “medical device” solutions integrate third party (regulated) medical devices with Cisco technology to create an evolutionary kind of solution. These products include Nurse Connect and HealthPresence, and they both meet the legal definition of a regulated medical device.

    DISCLOSURE: Cisco is a current client, although they were not when this blog post was initially written.

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