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Intel Mobile PC Platform To Help Healthcare Providers Only If It Fits Our Workflow

Intel recently announced a partnership with Mobile Computing detailing their mobile computing platform, which it claims will improve patient safety and healthcare provider efficiency. It will do so by providing a toteable tablet sized portable computer that wirelessly communicates with an electronic medical record (which I've blogged about the benefits ad naseum). This platform can improve the safety of administering your medications by allowing the nurse to first check your identity via RFID. RFID technology comes as a chip that you probably didn't realize is placed in the packaging of many household disposables such as razors, to monitor their progress from the warehouse to your corner drugstore. Some hospitals are using it to identify patients, as well as your healthcare providers to allow them access to computers and identify them.

Technology is only as useful as it's actually used, and this technology is no different. The plastic wrist bracelet with your name printed on it could identify you to your nurse, if she looked at it. That's how RFID is proposed to help, by not allowing the medication to be dispensed without being in the presence of the right patient. For many years, we've had dispensing machines that were located at the nursing station that monitors a whole wing of patients. Now, manufacturers are trying to make this machines more portable, and be able to move from one room to another, and get next to the actual patient.

I love it when other blogs give me the dirt on devices, and of the many who wrote about it, Tim Gee, lists the details on what makes a successful portable medical computing device according to Intel. The one requirement that stands out is durability, e.g. getting dropped.

HIStalk is my favorite blog for reprints of opinions about healthcare technology and today's post inspired me to comment:
From HIS Boy Elroy: "Re: Intel's new gadget. Intel may have consulted with El Camino Hospital about their new slate PC monstrosity, but I know a nurse from there who said Intel just about got laughed out of the place when they showed them the final product. Some PhD nurse from Intel loaded it up with every possible gizmo known to man regardless of whether users need it, obviously not consulting anyone about workflow. Plus, ECH is known for shilling for vendors with inferior solutions. This is a perfect example of outsiders who come into healthcare with guns blazing, criticizing an industry which only they can save because the rest of us fell off turnip trucks. Does every RN need a camera? How do you crawl across a patient's bed to their wrist lugging a tablet PC to scan their barcode? Craig Barrett might want to keep his healthcare solutions to himself until he learns something about it other than his reluctance to give up his Intel millions to pay for it."

If this quote is correct, it doesn't sound like Intel's listening to their own "ethnographic research among [these] nurses at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif." HIS Boy Elroy may have not used RFID cards to sign into a computer before since you can be several feet away and be identified, although I suspect that distance would be decreased to differentiate different patients in adjoining beds. He also might be overstating the millions that he suspects Intel is pouring into this attempt since I'll bet that their partner Mobile Computing is contributing heavily. Even with these caveats, I'm concerned with the allegation that Intel didn't listen to their research. The device has to fit within the workflow of healthcare providers or it won't be used.

I can share an example from my own experience. Many Emergency Rooms use tablet PCs to look up and document patient information. I think they're too heavy to lug around, whereas this Motion Computing model looks to be lighter and thinner. Many of the devices that are small enough to put in a pocket, such as UMPCs or UMPC-pro, don't display enough pixels on their screens (less than 1024x768) Epic. A tablet is no use if I can't click on buttons I need since they're off the screen.

Another problem I've had is with battery life. I can't get through a shift of work, 4 hours, which is almost double the 2 hour battery life from many of these UMPCs. Swapping batteries is a pain.

A final problem is with data entry. I'm able to quickly enter my patient chart information when I sit down at a keyboard by using macros, but there aren't any usable keyboards on these tablets or UMPCs. I've yet to find voice recognition that works (even 99% accuracy is too low for me, to have to go back and correct text). Handwriting recognition is getting a lot better, and even more so with the medical dictionaries Motion Computing offers. I tried this at a recent conference HIMSS, and was impressed.

Overall, it's really concerning that Intel is ignoring its own research. If these devices don't fit in our workflow and make our work more efficient, we won't use them.

Disclosures: I have consulted for UMPC-pro manufacturer OQO in the past, but no longer do. I used to blog for Medgadget, but no longer do, but they remain good friends.

Others who've commented: Intel, Dan Farber, Medgadget, Engadget, eWeek, Geekzone, and many at Google

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.