Digital pen offers electronic record-keeping prescription

Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute considers Anoto's digital pen data-collection technology an integral component of its electronic health records rollout.

Digital tablet computers are the rage among companies considering mobile ways to fill out forms digitally, but high-tech company Anoto is encouraging businesses not to overlook its digital pen and paper forms as an option for collecting information or signatures electronically.

The company's technology is being adopted by healthcare providers, field services organizations and other businesses with highly mobile workforces and working environments. The pens write like regular ballpoints, but the information also is captured digitally as the user is writing, creating an electronic record of the form. Data is transferred into a master database via a BlueTooth transmitter.

The Anoto pen technology has found a following within healthcare practices because many are still paper-based as far as the intake of information, despite the push for electronic medical records, said Virginia Carpenter, vice president of marketing for Anoto.

A survey released by Anoto in March 2012 found that 63 percent of respondents spend from 25 percent to 75 percent of their day filling out or processing paperwork. Digital pens help bridge the gap, while building on existing systems, Carpenter said.

Robert Jasa, director of healthcare informations for Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, said his organization opted for Anoto's technology as part of its NextPen electronic medical records rollout because it addresses several concerns, including this big one: training for patients, many of whom tend to be older.

"It works, and it works pretty well," Jasa said.

Other considerations included the technology's portability (since it can be transferred from caregiver to caregiver as a patient is seen), and its relatively long battery life. The pen battery can go 10 hours between charges, although power can be conserved by replacing the cap, Anoto said. In the case of Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, the pens are also docked when they are not in use and overnight, which means they are charging whenever possible.

Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute is using its pens in conjunction with electronic healthcare records (EHR) software from NextGen, Jasa. The mobile part of the solution is called NextPen.

As the technology is rolled out across the organization's six-state operating region, the pens are being used for collecting patient histories and consent forms. As patients meet with different clinical professionals, notes can be switched to different colors of ink within the record so that writing can be differentiated, Jasa said. The organization is also studying a form that will let clinicians make drawings and capture images to associate with patient records. Its developers have tested scenarios in which two forms were used side by side in order to "fool" the software. "The pen was smart enough to enter the information properly," Jasa said.

The organization is using three to five pens per location, depending on the number of patients that visit, Jasa said. The technology is being rolled out across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington through the remainder of 2012, he said.

According to Anoto, a NextPen solution for a typical small practice deployment such as the one that Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute is undertaking would cost less than $7,500. That would include the NextPens, docking stations, software for integrating with the NextGen Amulatory electronic health records (EHR) software, forms customization and a starter set of forms, installation and training. The cost would obviously different depending on the type of application.

(Image courtesy of Anoto Group; copyright Anoto AB)

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