Selecting the Right Tablet PCs for Your Health System
April 2005 - Vol. 2 No. 2

Factors to Consider Before Making a Purchase

By Scott McCreadie, PharmD

TABLET PCS WERE INTRODUCED INTO THE MARKET IN LATE 2002 AND BILLED as the next-generation personal computer. The devices were largely promoted by Microsoft, in conjunction with multiple hardware manufacturers, with the introduction of the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition platform. The tablet PC is, in essence, a cross between a PDA and a laptop computer, and its screen can accept input directly from a stylus (a pen-like device). Tablet PCs also feature improved wireless technology for better connectivity, hardware that consumes a minimal amount of power, and handwritingand speech-recognition capabilities.

There are two main versions of the tablet PC: the slate model and the convertible model. The slate model is a one-piece device that contains a screen and usually comes with a detached keyboard that can connect to the tablet through a USB port. Convertible tablets include an attached keyboard that can be rotated into position for use. (See photos on opposite page.)

The Evolution of Computing Platforms in Health Care
The tablet PC combines the power of a laptop with the portability of a handheld device, and enables on-the-move employees to access and record critical information where and when they need to. Information entered into a tablet PC can be quickly integrated with back-end systems via a wireless network or the tablet’s docking station.

In the health care field, workers are often mobile, making the use of a traditional PC challenging. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other professionals are participating in patient rounds and attending meetings at the bedside or in a variety of other locations. Fixed workstations for these professionals are not the best option, as it is difficult and cost-prohibitive to put a computer in every potentially necessary location.

Many healthcare workers have tried PDAs such as the Palm Pilot and, later, the Pocket PC. However, their small screen sizes and lack of processing power placed a limit on how much information could be displayed on their screens at one time. In addition, the screen size made it difficult to enter or record information. Laptops are popular in health care settings, but they are still very difficult to use while standing or walking. In contrast, tablet PCs have been designed for such use. The tablet PC’s form factor and available accessory cases allow clinicians to use a computer while on rounds or in meetings, and in various locations within the health system. A tablet PC provides wireless access to data whenever and wherever it is needed with a screen size that approximates a piece of paper. Accessing patient data is easy through the use of integrated wireless connections to existing health-system data stores.

Tablet PCs outperform fixed workstations and laptops in terms of the ease of data input. The tablet’s voice recognition feature for dictation allows its user to turn spoken words into text or into digitally recorded voice files for wireless transfer to a transcription service. Furthermore, the device’s on-screen keyboard and writing pad allows health-care providers to take and save notes electronically and easily retrieve them when necessary. These input methods are also helpful when sending e-mail and interacting with patient-care applications.

Choosing a Tablet PC
The choice of a tablet PC is largely based on the functions necessary to the end user. You must first decide between a slate and a convertible model. A convertible
model with an attached keyboard will be helpful if the end user needs to do a significant amount of data entry. Users that are more mobile and/or who will use the tablet primarily for information viewing may find that slate models are a better option because of their smaller size.

Screen size and battery life are also important elements to consider. Tablet screens currently range from 10.4 to 14.1 inches. Motion Computing is often cited for their tablets’ high-quality screen display. In the hospital setting, where error prevention is of the utmost importance, it is vital that clinicians are able to view information on a clear, bright screen that is large enough to ensure readable fonts. Battery life is also a concern with most of the tablets on the market today. With the exception of Electrovaya’s Scribbler SC-2200, which lasts up to nine hours per charge, most tablet models will last two to four hours per charge. Purchasing an extra battery and charger is often necessary.

The choice of manufacturer is an important consideration as well. Look for established companies that offer a technical support network and that have financial stability. Another consideration to keep in mind is the availability of accessories, including docking stations, CD/DVD drives, carrying cases, biometrics for authentication, and alternate power supplies, such as extra batteries.

Scott McCreadie, PharmD, MBA is a strategic project coordinator in the department of pharmacy services at the University of Michigan Health System. In addition, he is president of the McCreadie Group, Inc., a consulting and software development company specializing in the health care industry. His professional experience includes developing software for the tablet PC platform and implementing tablet PCs in a health care organization.

Motion Computing’s M1400 (above, left) is a slate-style tablet PC; the Fujitsu LifeBook T400 (left) converts from slate to standard laptop configuration.

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