February 20, 2007 4:12 PM PST

UCSF nurses test tablet PCs

SAN FRANCISCO--Nurses at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center will be among the first health care workers to use a tablet-like PC developed specifically for medical professionals by Intel and Motion Computing.

The $2,199 C5 is technically called a "mobile clinical assistant," but it's basically a small tablet PC redesigned for a hospital environment. Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Motion Computing CEO Scott Eckert showed off the device during an event here Tuesday. The C5 was first unveiled during last September's Intel Developer Forum.

C5 tablet PC

"It allows work to be done where work gets done," Otellini said. The C5 looks like a small slate-style tablet PC with a handle at the top. It has been coated with a special material that can withstand the frequent use of disinfectant cleansers and that helps protect the device against falls.

Nurses at UCSF and other hospitals around the country currently measure a patient's vital signs with one medical device. But they have to manually transfer the data to one of several rolling notebook PCs--referred to as COWs, or computers on wheels--so it can be captured in a patient's medical history file and made available to other doctors.

This low-tech approach can lead to transcription errors by fatigued nurses and potentially serious medical problems for patients, said Ann Williamson, nursing director at UCSF. The C5 is directly connected to the other medical equipment used to take a patient's pulse or measure their blood pressure, so data is instantly recorded by the C5 directly off the medical device and transferred to a hospital server.

This also allows nurses to spend more time with patients, because they don't have to leave the patient to find the nearest COW or deal with having to log in to the shared COW every time, Williamson said.

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Video: New device helps hospital patients
Intel and Motion Computing announced the launch of the Motion C5, which will be used to improve the efficiency of measuring and inputting patient data.

In a world of profit-driven hospitals, $2,199 might seem like a lot to spend on a tablet PC, especially when UCSF would like to make sure every nurse working a shift has one at his or her disposal. Currently, a floor staff of about 10 nurses shares four or five COWs, Williamson said.

But the COW is pretty expensive itself, said Michael Blum, chief medical information officer for UCSF. The current setup consists of a bulky wheeled cart carrying a standard notebook PC encased in a spill-proof chassis. And the notebook uses a special $1,000 battery that tends to last only 18 months or so, he said.

Intel and Motion are hoping the C5 helps drag the health care industry into the 21st century of information technology. Health care is the world's largest industry, but it is woefully behind in its use of IT for tasks like record keeping, Otellini said. Intel created its Digital Health Group about two years ago to learn more about how the technology industry can serve--and take advantage of--the looming surge in demand for health care services as Baby Boomers age.

Tablet PCs haven't taken over the PC industry the way some might have hoped, but they are extremely popular with health care workers, Motion's Eckert said. The devices "enable doctors and nurses to deliver the best care they can," he said.

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VA Hospitals
The VA hospital system is one of the leaders of use of technology to facilitate health care. Reference the article "The Best Care Anywhere" by Phillip Longman in the Washington Monthly. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.longman.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.longman.html</a>
Posted by jechappe (1 comment )
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Overrated VA Tech System
I'm in the medical field, trained at the VA, and have seen reports generated by the VA computer system.

The VA tech system seems to fall into the category of "at least it's better than what other's have." The printed reports generated are awkward to read, they look like they were generated from some UNIX system from the '70's. Lab reports are long column's of results that are not aligned, making it easy to mix results. The VA, at times, has offered it's EMR on a limited basis to the medical community at large, but it hasn't been very popular or widely adopted.

Furthermore, the VA may communicate well internally, but they are horrible to deal with externally. Attempting to obtain a patient's records from the VA is like trying to claw your way through a brick wall.

And, of course, the financial reserves of the VA are unmatched by any medical system in the world. Suggesting others do what the VA does with tech is like suggesting Luxembourg should have the military prowess of the United States.
Posted by skshrews (98 comments )
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What About Cheaper Devices?
Couldn't you do this with an off the shelf PDA? I use a Palm TX in the hospital, it has WiFi and Bluetooth. Both systems work well in my experience. Unfortunately, I don't know of any software that quite does what the article describes, but I don't think it would be that difficult.

An over $2000 dollar PC kicking around the hospital sounds like overkill. Their is cheaper hardware (maybe not run by Intel processors), this seems more of a software issue.

The whole technology argument vis-a-vis the medical field is dishonest. To regulate MD's into expensive technical systems, when they can't adjust their fees to pay for them, is the oft ignored issue. Until the price of these systems fall dramatically, they'll end up ignored.
Posted by skshrews (98 comments )
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I agree with skshrews' comment that the expense of electronic medical records is ignored. Most medical errors are costly for insurance companies and the Federal Government (Medicare - your tax dollars). Hospitals and clinics want to invest in something with an economic return (just like any other business). High tech medical records have zero returns. Most people don't know that doctors do not share medical records (or blood test results) automatically. People seem to think that if you get a blood test, any doctor anywhere can somehow look it up. The fact is, if got a test somewhere else, a hospital or clinic would make more money in repeating the test. There's absolutely no economic incentive in sharing this information for free.

I work at a hospital where they emphasize a "Future of Medicine Initiative" where we have the latest CT scanners, PET scanner, MRI's, and even handhelds for doctors to do billing as well as electronically send prescriptions directly to pharmacies. The patients see that and our new lobby and think we're high tech. In actuality, our lab system is literally running on Unix and DOS. To look up labs, we have to launch a modified telnet application which hasn't been updated for at least 125 years or more. The system goes down for maintenance for an hour every night. It's the worst lab computer system anyone has ever seen, no matter what clinic or hospital they've ever worked at. It's funny that the article calls it a "low-tech method" when the USCF nurses put the vitals into a computer. Here at a major medical center, the vitals are on a piece of paper in a bedside chart that's physically separate from the actual paper chart which is in a different room from the piece of paper that keeps track of the patient's medications. If any piece of paper is missing, too bad. The doctors and nurses work extra hard to get around the computer and charting system (it's very frustrating in this day and age), but since patients don't see it and the hospital doesn't have to pay extra for anybody's frustration, there's no incentive to change. If it takes an extra hour to discharge a patient because some pieces of paper went missing for a while, the hospital still makes money keeping them an extra night. No big deal.
Posted by bobstudent3 (1 comment )
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New C5 tablet
Where can we contact a C5 rep in the S.F.Bay Area?
Posted by dmullaney-fricke (1 comment )
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