Blacktown Hospital has run a trial of a tablet PC designed specifically for the healthcare industry — even blood and guts won't slow it down.
The Motion C5 in action (Credit: Motion Computing)
Technically-savvy Blacktown hospital has invested a lot in its IT infrastructure — the whole hospital is wireless, including the back-end. Having introduced electronic medical records years ago, the hospital says it's always on the lookout for better ways for medical staff to record patient information on the go.
The Motion Computing C5 tablet — designed together with Intel for the health industry and available in Australia from late last year — is the latest system the hospital has trialled over three months earlier this year. The device is completely sealed, meaning a spill of urine, blood or just tea will not cause it to collapse or cross-infect other patients — it can even be wiped down with disinfectant.
The health professionals in the hospital needed to benchmark the new tablets against the running system: computers on wheels, nicknamed COWs, and their smaller brethren — calves.
The clinicians took to the Motion C5, according to Professor Steven Boyages, chief executive for Sydney West Area Health Service, with the greatest advantage being the mobility, such as being able to sit on the bed with the patient while holding the device.
The tablets' portability, however, does have one negative aspect: "The downside with these devices is they will walk," Boyages said.
The hospital has been working with Intel on answers to the problem, including using a proximity device with RFID technology built into it to deactivate the tablet when it moves out of a specified zone. Another solution is for clinicians to each have their own device and take personal responsibility for it.
A drawback to the tablet per clinician solution is the price tag, which sits around AU$3,000. "That's the other disadvantage at the moment," Boyages said, although he added that he thought the price would come down with time.
The Motion C5 also has an RFID reader and digital camera built in, although neither were tested in the trial, because the hospital doesn't have RFID or barcoding set up and its electronic medical records cannot currently store images.
However, Boyages believes these features will be very useful in the future: the RFID scanner can make sure the right drug finds its way to the right patient once the drugs and patients are tagged while the camera can measure information difficult to capture in words, such as the "size of an ulcer, the state of a wound".
Boyages sees the camera being particularly useful for community nurses who visit patients previously seen by a different nurse. In this case, to ascertain if a wound is getting better, the nurse usually asks the patient, and in typical Australian fashion, they'll often say "Yeah, I think it's better". A less subjective method of finding out how the injury is going is by looking at an image from the previous session.
The next step, according to Boyages, is to use the device in a new testing centre which is set to be opened, where the problems flagged in the trial can be ironed out.
Patients won't suddenly see all Blacktown hospital medical staff sporting the devices in the future, Boyages says, adding that technology often reaches past what enterprise systems can do, and changes need to be made before the technology can work properly in the hospital.