“The pen is mightier than the sword”, or so wrote author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. To that I might now add, the pen (or rather the stylus) is mightier than the keyboard especially for discrete, form-based data entry and navigation in clinical computing. While I am totally sympathetic to clinicians who proclaim that data entry in the electronic medical record is a significant barrier to EMR adoption, I believe that with today’s newest technologies it is possible to create a user experience that merges the best attributes of old-fashioned pen and paper with electronic systems.
The newest generation of tablet computers running Windows 8 (and soon 8.1) provides a highly mobile computing experience that gives clinicians a lot options for data entry. Furthermore, I’m starting to see developers of electronic medical record solutions take full advantage of this modern user interface that brings together touch, keyboard, handwriting and speech recognition, and stylus input in ways that will entice even non-techie clinicians to give it a try.
For years, clinicians or their medical assistants have been jotting things down on paper, filling out boxes on forms, and dictating longer entries into devices for later transcription. Now, all of that is possible on a single device that is highly mobile and doesn’t get in the way or in between the doctor and the patient. Specifically, I’m referencing new tablet or ultrabook computers like those from Microsoft (Surface), Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, Asus and others. In particular, I’d suggest taking a look at models offering digital (not capacitance) stylus input. That’s because handwriting recognition and editing has become so good, that these new machines can make sense even from the chicken-scratch handwriting produced by physicians like me.
And, it’s not just the handwriting recognition that makes these machines stand apart. It is the way all of the data input modalities can be brought together to enhance the clinical end-user experience. The digital pen is both navigation and data entry device. Place the curser in a data entry field and either hand-write, or if you choose, dictate the entry. Nothing could be simpler or more intuitive. I would also urge EMR developers to incorporate ways to take further advantage of other inherent capabilities of these powerful new tablets devices such as audio recording, or capturing digital photos or video that can be inserted into the patient record when appropriate.
For those clinicians who may be attracted to what I’m saying about using a digital stylus for navigation and data entry, I would urge you to visit your local Microsoft Store or electronics retailer and take the Surface Pro for a spin. The digitizing stylus (pen) made exclusively for the Surface Pro is truly amazing. Thanks to breakthrough technology that recognizers and blocks touch input from the palm of your hand when the pen is in use, one can easily move between touch navigation and digital inking/handwriting recognition. There is simply no comparison to the “power of the pen” on a Surface device. For comparison, try the “capacitance” kind of stylus that must be used on an iPad. You’ll soon see why I believe the Surface Pro offers a superior experience. Oh, need a keyboard too. Just flip it in place when you want it, and out of the way when you don’t. Magic!
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft