Handhelds: Far More Than a Helping Hand

Motion Computing’s LE1600 tablet PCHandheld computers instantaneously connect caregivers to vital patient information at the point of care. Wireless mobility is becoming more mainstream in healthcare settings since portable computing offers a solution to better cope in today’s fast-paced healthcare environment. Case in point are two healthcare providers that have deployed different models for handheld computers but they share similar, critical features to mobile healthcare: a compact, lightweight design, a dependable battery life and adequate screen size.

Wanting to operate more efficiently and provide its pediatric patients with a high-level of sophisticated care, ‘Specially for Children in Austin, Texas, set out to become a paperless facility. The sub-specialty pediatric practice implemented an electronic medical record (EMR) system and armed its 25 physicians, six nurse practitioners and other caregivers with a Tablet PC. These portable computers are equipped with touch screen or digitizing tablet technology that allows the user to operate the computer with a stylus or digital pen, or a fingertip, rather than a keyboard or mouse.

More than 50,000 pediatric patients are admitted annually at ‘Specially for Children, which is affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Austin. Our facility consists of pediatric multi-specialists,” explains CIO Zachery Jiwa. Some specialty areas include endocrinology, gastroenterology, infectious disease, nephrology and neurology. Prior to the EMR, Jiwa says that each group of specialists would create a mini-medical record for each patient they saw. If a patient was seen by the gastroenterologist, the neurologist and the hematologist, each doctor would develop his or her own chart. Doctors had to share information, copy information and send the information along with each patient. “This was very inefficient,” says Jiwa. “There was duplicate documentation being done, and sometimes charts were being lost.”

Implementing an EMR in 2005 quickly improved workflow since all patient information is logged into one system and stored in one unified database. ‘Specially for Children’s caregivers soon became even more efficient when they were equipped with Motion Computing Tablet PCs. The handheld computers replaced clipboards as they were used to access patient vitals and medical histories, input patient information, make changes to charts and write prescriptions — all at the point of care. Jiwa says it was more cost-effective to equip physicians with handheld computers than it was to install wired PCs in each patient room.

Two versions of Motion Computing’s Tablet PCs are utilized at ‘Specially for Children: the M1400 and LE1600 Tablets. Jiwa says screen size and weight were carefully examined in the selection process. The LE1600 Tablet PC is 3.1 pounds, features a 12.1inch display and integrated with high speed wireless connectivity. It also can upload patient images. ‘Specially for Children uses a local radiology group (Austin Radiology Association) to read patient images acquired outside the hospital. Physicians have an application on their Tablet PCs to open ARA’s PACS to look at patient images. The physicians at the hospital also will view images with children and parents at the patient’s bedside, says Jiwa.

“Physicians do not have to rely on paper charts anymore,” Jiwa says about the benefits of handheld computers. “All patient information is at the physicians’ fingertips.”

Physicians take the point

Florida’s Orlando Regional Healthcare System is a 1,572-bed healthcare network consisting of eight hospitals. ORHS provides medical care to 540,000 Central Florida residents and 4,500 international visitors each year and is home to a Level I Trauma Center and Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A robust wireless network allows physicians to electronically access patient information and clinical data using a number of wireless, handheld devices including Panasonic’s ultra-thin Toughbook notebook computers. ORHS utilizes the Toughbook T2 and T4 models. The Toughbook T4 has a battery life of more than 9 hours, weighs 3.3 pounds and features an ergonomic hand strap, a touch-screen LCD and image rotation software so physicians can use T4 on the move.

More than 1,000 of these Panasonic “tablet alternatives” are utilized by physicians within the hospital, as well as remotely, to access clinical applications ranging from PACS and RIS to an EMR and a computerized physician order entry system, says Alex Veletsos, director of IT. Physicians selected the device due to ruggedness, lightweight design, battery life and screen size, he says. 

There are different levels of utilization when it comes to wireless mobility at ORHS. The physicians that utilize the Toughbooks all day, everyday depend on the technology to serve patients throughout the widespread regional healthcare system. “These doctors use the Toughbooks all the time throughout every hospital — while they are on rounds, when they are seeing patients or at home,” says Veletsos. “They carry the T2 and T4 with them all the time and they use it anywhere, anytime to access patient records or enter orders.” Some physicians and nurses periodically utilize the handheld computers to access patient test results or view medical histories at the patient’s bedside. Whatever the level of utilization, the most important thing is the flexibility wireless technology offers to physicians because it allows them to move more freely throughout the multi-site healthcare network.