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Thoughts, comments, news, and reflections about healthcare IT from Microsoft's worldwide health senior director Bill Crounse, MD, on how information technology can improve healthcare delivery and services around the world.

Notebook or Tablet PC for your Practice? Go for the Tablet!

Notebook or Tablet PC for your Practice? Go for the Tablet!

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When Tablet PCs first came on the market, there was a hefty premium for using digital ink.  Today, a Tablet can be had for little more than $100 above the price of a quality notebook.  For this, you'll get a 3rd or 4th generation slate or convertible model Tablet PC that will do everything you'd want from a robust, highly mobile business notebook.  Plus it will give you the option of using digital ink, pen navigation, and a form factor that works very well for busy clinicians.  Oh, I did I mention you can do some really cool (and fun) stuff too?

Yesterday, I met with Tara Prakriya, a senior manager and software architect in our Windows group.  You may already know that when Windows Vista becomes available, the Tablet SKU is a standard feature of the operating system.  Although a graphics upgrade would be needed to run "glass" on your Tablet, most of the machines on the market today (with at least 512 megs of RAM) will run Vista.  Of course, all will run Windows XP.  I expect several manufacturers will come forward with Vista-ready Tablets around launch time.

In the meantime, there's plenty to do with your Tablet today.  The form factor (in "open face" or slate mode) lends itself to quickly referring to information on your machine, your local network or on the web.  Tara recommends configuring the power switch to put your machine in standby mode so you can bring it to life quickly when you need it, and save battery power when you don't.

With a Tablet, you can speedily capture thoughts and ideas in Windows Journal without being restricted and find those thoughts later because ink is searchable.  You can use the snipping tool to quickly gab a piece of any application such as a lab report or x-ray, annotate it, and send it on or save it.  Besides all the cool features that come with the OS, here are a few of the fun extras you should also try. 

Write on the desktop screen directly to jot a quick note or phone number, draw like a professional artist, or solve a crossword puzzle. Demo it here
 
Gobinder lite is a neat note-taking tool as an alternative to Windows Journal. It has the same great features of searchable ink with some additional organization.
 
With Office2003 do even more with annotations right in a word document.  Annotate a PowerPoint presentation either to send someone feedback or while presenting to discuss a topic with the audience.
 
One Note 2003 - has great integration of audio recording with ink - means you can find your audio when you find your ink. It's a very nice application to jot down ideas, notes, snippets and organize as you'd like.
 
With other apps like Mind Manager 6.0, think through tough issues or plan a complex project either collaboratively or on your own - then easily convert to popular Office formats. This is a user created demo:
 
And if you have a flair for software development, you can customize your own applications for mobile scenarios using ink for creativity and expressiveness.  The SDK is easy to use. Although the sample application included is for auto insurance claims, I can easily see how this might be modified for anatomical annotations used in medical practice.
 
Have fun with your Tablet, and let us know what you think.
 
Bill Crounse, MD    Healthcare Industry Director     Microsoft Healthcare & Life Sciences
  • Tablets? Or UMPCs? The clinicians that I have spoked with about tablets (and who use them) love the tablets, but hate the bulkiness of them. When at a bedside, there wasn't a good place to put them down.

    One alternative might be the UMPCs soon to be released. They natively run Windows XP, are supposed to support Vista, and could fit in a Lab Coat pocket. Not to mention, they're cheaper than a laptop or a tablet.

    As a side note, our company already provides for Inked Anatomical annotations in our CPOE / documentation system.
  • Tablet PCs seem very popular for clinic based physicians who are 'semi-mobile' - i.e. they will hop between a couple of rooms but will be able to put down the tablet when they are not using it.

    For junior staff who are running all over the hospital a Tablet is less viable. Just too heavy to carrry around all day and too risky to leave lying about. For these chaps, a Windows Mobile device is probably much more handy.

    As for UMPCs - I see these as a bit of a half-way house. Will tablet users switch - probably not. If they are happy using a tablet in a clinic then they won't want to 'downgrade' in terms of power or features.

    Those who've previously considered a tablet but thought them too heavy might well be interested in the UMPC though.

    Will PDA users switch to UMPC - more likely. PDAs have a very limited screen size which means viewing X-rays and EMR entry is difficult. They are mainly used for reference and personal organisation - and increasingly as mobile phones. If UMPCs are light enough to carry all day long then PDAs users could well start switching. This is also going to depend on what the Windows Mobile people come up with. Screen res is now up to 640x480 on some devices - they haven't got far to go to reach the UMPC screen res of 800x600!

    If anyone reading this is interested in using PDAs in medicine - we have an educational workshop at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on April 6th. Details of the event are at www.doctorsgadgets.com
  • Thanks Jason and Chris.  Chris, I believe you hit the nail on the head.  The UMPC is more likely to appeal to PDA users who want a little more real estate on the screen along with perhaps a more robust user experience.  I don't see these as a substitute for the Tablet, at least not yet.

    As always, your comments are appreciated.

    Bill Crounse, MD  
  • Although I am not a physician, I can imagine how Tablet PC or UMPC could be used by clinicians. While PDAs are graphically-challenged compared to TPCs and UMPCs, PDAs' form-factor is ideal for use in a clinical setting. More so wi-fi/bluetooth equipped PDAs running Windows Mobile 5.0.
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