Handheld Devices Get a Grip on Healthcare

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Motion Computing LS800 tablet PCComputers get smaller, lighter and more powerful all the time. The tide is turning for handheld devices—as they become more functional, rugged and have longer battery life, they have become ideal for a multitude of tasks found in the healthcare arena. From better recordkeeping to quicker, more accurate treatment, clinicians have put handhelds to the test with excellent results.

Access to faster, better service

A fast-growing organization, Leon Medical Centers’ paper-based system wasn't keeping pace. Its five facilities, based in Miami, offer primary and specialty care to the Hispanic Medicare population. The emphasis is on excellent service, and much of the population has limited mobility. So, the organization offers a door-to-door service program which coordinates transportation services with physician appointments. Because the facilities offer therapy, dental care, eye care, pharmacy and more, patients can schedule several services for one visit and get their prescriptions filled before taking the same transportation back home.    

Although the transportation program satisfied a critically unmet need, it created workflow challenges. “As you grow, there can be bottlenecks,” says Marcus Gomez, senior vice president of MIS and telecommunications. A primary bottleneck was the pharmacy – as Leon patients waited for their prescriptions to be filled, the transportation staff was left standing idle. With more than 10,000 prescriptions filled on a typical Monday, Leon needed a comprehensive solution to streamline efficiency, reduce operational costs, improve patient satisfaction and reduce the risk of errors. Leon found its answer in a computer-based physician order entry solution (CPOE).    

“Technology plays a unique role in our workflow,” says Gomez. “It ultimately translates to better service.”    

Gomez worked with CDW Healthcare, who assisted with testing of recommended devices. Leon found the right technology and better service in handheld computing devices. After initially trying them in late 2001, Gomez says that evolution of the device in 2002 “allowed us to take advantage of quick entry and it gave physicians mobility.” He worked with CDW to get the devices in the physicians' hands. He decided to design an interface that would take prescriptions from anywhere in the facilities directly to the pharmacy. That would eliminate double entry and provide the ability to track every prescription. Pharmacy staff could acknowledge receipt of the prescription and send a reply to the originating system.
Since that time, Gomez has experimented with different handhelds and applications. His research and the advances offered by manufacturers led to an ideal device. Displays have improved, the devices have a longer battery life, power has increased dramatically, and they are much less bulky.
Gomez’s biggest challenge, however, was getting Leon physicians to use the devices. “We knew we had to give them a product that would provide exceptional uptime,” he says. “If there’s any difficulty with the technology, they will stop using it altogether. That’s why we made such an effort in jumping on the latest technology and experimenting with hardware.” Leon physicians are using HP iPAQ Pocket PCs.
Some of the physicians were hesitant so Gomez did not force them to use the devices. “They didn’t know if they could trust the technology. They didn’t want to risk it. But we built their trust over time.” The most important method of easing physician concern was the establishment of a reliable network with survivability protection, Gomez says. That stable platform for operations and connectivity helped with physician buy-in.
Willing physicians became champion doctors. Those giving the devices a try could easily see how they could improve their daily workflow. Many of the patients are on multiple medications. But once that information is entered, any physician can access it and easily renew or discontinue prescriptions. Gomez designed the software with few dropdown lists and built in default values. “After they’ve filled 10 to 20 prescriptions, they realize it’s not that complicated. And, patients are thrilled with the result.”

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