While the media will be focused today on Apple’s Tablet announcement, I’d like to remind HealthBlog readers that there’s nothing new about Tablet devices. I have been evangelizing the use of Tablet PCs in health for nearly a decade. And over the last several years, particularly with the release of Windows Vista and now Windows 7, the Tablet PC value proposition for healthcare providers just gets better and better.
First of all, the devices themselves are better. And, healthcare providers have more choices than ever before (I have four Tablet PCs on my desk right now). There are excellent Tablets available from most major manufacturers including ones made expressly for clinicians such as the devices offered by Motion Computing, Panasonic, Tablet Kiosk and other vendors.
Of course, it’s not really so much about the device as it is what you can do with it. First and foremost, these are full-function computing and productivity solutions (unlike that shiny new Apple). Tablet PCs more closely mimic the familiar patient chart. They can be used, digital pen in hand, without feeling intrusive in the physician-patient encounter. They accommodate multi-modal data input including keyboard (when docked), digital inking, point and click, voice and even touch including multi-touch with Windows 7. The inherent speech engine in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is so good, it is even possible to do excellent speech recognition dictation if you are willing to put in a little effort up front. When connected wirelessly to a corporate network or the Internet, Tablet PCs provide instant access to the information you need, when and where you need it. They can also run all of the other applications you might want to use in your office or home.
All of this functionality hasn’t been lost on clinicians. Just yesterday I was contacted by Dr. Alan Rosenbach. Dr. Rosenbach runs a very successful solo dermatology practice in the Los Angeles area. He called me because he wanted to share his enthusiasm for his Tablet PC running Microsoft Office OneNote. He said for the last three years, he has been using OneNote as the official EMR for his office. He does all of his chart notes and tracks all of his patients with OneNote. He uses a Tablet PC from Fujitsu. He makes extensive use of digital inking for both data entry and illustrations on clinical findings. He also embeds photos in his patients’ “charts” and attaches transcriptions and other documents to each patient’s record. Most remarkably, he says, OneNote has never gone “down” for even a second. And of course, he loves the low, low price.
What Dr. Rosenbach didn’t know until I told him, was that there is actually a company that has for many years been selling an EMR solution based on Microsoft Office OneNote for the Tablet PC. That company is the Ablet Factory. I received an update from company founder, Fritz Switzer, in this morning’s mail. I had asked him to tell me what medical specialties where particularly drawn to his company’s solution. He replied:
“With regard to the mix of specialties we see using our OneNote EMR products, a large number of psychiatrists and podiatrists lead the specialty roster. I have referred to this fact as “we provide a head to toe solution”. Chiropractors and pain management specialists are also recurring practice types. We have seen a common thread with this usage mix. The practices have a large number of “graphically oriented” forms/templates. The digital inking of a Tablet with drawing capabilities of OneNote provide a platform where a conventional EMR falls short”.
The Ablet Factory also offers a medical vocabulary plug-in for their EMR solution called WordMgr 2010. It takes care of spell check, digital inking recognition and improved speech recognition for more than 100,000 medical terms and abbreviations.
If there is a downside here, it is that this EMR solution isn’t “certified” by ONCHIT. It also may not meet “meaningful use” criteria. So, if you are looking for a government handout to pay for your EMR, you are likely out of luck. On the other hand, thousands of docs in solo or small group practices have found an easy pathway to digitizing patient records that is simply “good enough”, at least for now. And this solution will only set you back about $700 for software. Add another $250 if you want the medical vocabulary plug-in. At those prices, who needs a bailout from the government anyway?
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft