With the launch of Windows 7 coming next week, I thought I would share an article that explores how Windows 7’s support for ‘touch’ will allow healthcare professionals to communicate better with patients and why I believe the operating system will help trigger a new generation of health IT solutions that will lead to improvements in clinical workflow. The article is by technical writer Paul Curran and was first published in the United Kingdom following a phone interview he did with me. I hope you enjoy it.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft
Whenever he ponders the future of clinical computing, Dr Bill Crounse says many images come to mind – and just as many questions: In 10 years’ time, will we still be using desktop PCs, computers on wheels, laptops and tablet PCs? Will the keyboard and mouse still be around?
Designers, architects and engineers of healthcare facilities should always be looking to the future, says Dr Crounse. “So too should executives, managers and staff in our hospitals and clinics,” he adds. “It’s too easy to picture the future in today’s terms, but that might well lead us in totally the wrong direction.”
Over the span of his distinguished career, Dr Crounse has witnessed monumental changes in communication and collaboration - from the ‘while you were out’ phone memos stacked on his desk to the instant messaging, email, voicemail and web conferencing that now keep him constantly connected.
The propagation of medical computing began in much the same way as other industries, with workstations strategically placed around hospital wards, he says. “Then as laptops gained in popularity, they were mounted on carts to improve workforce mobility and provide for longer battery life. Next, tablet PCs took over as models designed specifically for healthcare began to emerge. Now, manufacturers are combining the best attributes of tablets and desktops in a new breed of computers on wheels.”
And now forward…
“With the launch of the Windows 7 operating system (OS), you’ll certainly see more and more software applications take advantage of touch and multi-touch navigation married to increasingly sophisticated hand-writing and speech recognition technologies.
“For example, as the use of tablet PCs within healthcare continues to grow, many of us will welcome the improved hand-writing recognition facility in Windows 7. It also learns, so the recognition gets better the more I use it.” He says the same is true for voice recognition: “I just talk to my PC and it does what I want, from opening programs to dictating letters.”
The true party piece of Windows 7, though, is its support for touch - not just touchscreens but what has come to be called 'gesturing'; support for a sophisticated but more naturalistic way of interacting with technology.
“Clinicians are able to zoom in on an image by moving two fingers closer together, like they’re pinching something, or zoom out by moving two fingers apart,” says Dr Crounse. “They’ll even be able to move an image on the screen by rotating one finger around another, and right-click by holding one finger on their target while tapping the screen with another.” This sort of natural manipulation of text, images and multimedia will make computer equipment less obtrusive in the clinician-patient relationship; and should make technology accessible to many communities which use healthcare extensively, yet were previously somewhat overlooked by IT: for example the elderly.
Dr Crounse believes we’ll also see a transition to much richer displays in due course. “If you watch any of Microsoft’s ‘Future Vision’ videos, you’ll notice that large screen displays with touch screens are quite prevalent, as are smaller, pocket-sized devices that communicate wirelessly with their larger-screen cousins. You may have had an inkling of this future vision if you’ve ever played with Microsoft Surface, the multi-touch tabletop technology used in some healthcare kiosks.”
Dr Crounse says Surface technology is already making waves in healthcare by changing the way doctors communicate with patients. He says it enables them to use a range of media elements to demonstrate complex medical procedures or conditions to their patients. By erasing parts of the heart, for example, a doctor can show a patient what theirs looks like compared to a healthy one.
“Now just imagine all of these things combined in an environment that lets you move seamlessly from one device to another and are ‘recognized’ by each device as you approach it,” enthuses Dr Crounse. “Perhaps you’ll be wearing a small Bluetooth enabled microphone. You’ll be able to touch items on the screen, gesture with your hand, or use your voice to open and close windows.
“You’ll be able to ask questions or give directions, and the computer will respond. You’ll use natural hand gestures or touches to navigate and move from one workflow to another. You’ll transition from a large screen display to a portable device in your pocket, then to another large screen on the wall - and pick up your work exactly where you left off each time along the way.
Dr Crounse believes these types of technology are advancing so fast that over the next decade 2D and 3D computer graphics will match reality. For instance, he says Microsoft Research is doing some very exciting work in artificial intelligence and robotics.
“Some of their most recent work incorporates human traits like emotion and empathy. I believe this is the future of clinical computing. In fact, I think we’re already seeing this natural evolution in the products and solutions now hitting the street and others that will shortly be coming to market thanks to enabling technologies like Windows 7,” he concludes.
For more information on Windows 7: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/