Do Tablets in Health Clinics Work?

I have been fortunate to experiment with and actually use mobile technology in a variety of situations. Using tablet computers long before the iPad enabled me to better understand functional limitations of the technology in different environments. For those who might remember, tablet computers started out on Windows XP with very limited pen integration. The swivel displays were great and certainly eye catching, but the pen functionality left much to be desired. Weight and battery life all added to a relatively poor experience. But as someone committed to eliminating paper and making information more accessible to our staff and clients, I forged ahead with its use. Always the early adopter, I’ve seen the best and worst of this technology and have yet to see one product that stands out to truly meet the specific needs of schools and non-profits.

More than two years ago I was excited to be able to incorporate mobile technology into a solution for a new client. The client, a small health clinic, was moving forward with the implementation of a new Electronic Health Record system. They were forward thinking in this area as there was no agency or law forcing them to adopt this system at the time. The client engaged Varsity to help with the deployment and address any issues or concerns about how doctors, nurses, and support staff could best access and utilize the technology.

We began the needs assessment to determine the functional and operational requirements of our client. One of the more difficult needs to address was to figure out a way for doctors and nurses to access and update patient records from inside the exam room. We evaluated a fixed, in exam room solution, but it wasn’t going to work given the small spaces, facility changes, and mobility the clinic sought for its doctors. We also looked at tablets including the iPad. In reviewing the technology, almost everyone interviewed felt that it would be difficult to work and communicate with a patient while attempting to hold and type notes onto an iPad. Surprisingly, when introduced to a tablet computer (tablet PC), the response was overwhelmingly positive. Although the differences don’t seem largely significant, doctors favored the comfort that a larger screen provided, and found that a more traditional keyboard worked better for their needs. Although the tablet computers had approximately five to six hours of run time, battery life was never a factor because a typical patient visit is short, which makes docking it into a charging bay less problematic. And the weight (approximately 3 lbs.), wasn’t an issue because doctors were not using it while walking around the hospital. They would typically grab one prior to a round of patients, and return it across the hall when done.

In order to give the highest level of flexibility to access the Electronic Health Record application, we paired the tablet computers with a Citrix VDI solution. The doctors received the benefit of easily transitioning from a (mobile) tablet computer to a workstation at their office without having to start over every time they logged in. Additionally, doctors who were providing tele-health services could still access the EHR application remotely from any device or platform.

Now nearly in its third year, we’ve discussed revisiting the use of tablets vs. tablet computers in health services. The answer: doctors like working with a full size computer. They would ideally like longer battery life and something lighter, but a switch to a tablet (without the added benefits that a tablet computer provides) – doesn’t seem to be in the cards for now. The EHR system continues to work well and the transition, in hindsight, has been a much smoother process for this small clinic.