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11/12/2008
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Hospital Operator Demos Health Care App For Microsoft Surface

Texas Health Resources aims to improve doctor-patient communication with software for the touch-screen tabletop computer.

Often, patients have a difficult time envisioning the complicated medical procedures doctors are trying to explain. A large Texas health care provider is hoping that Microsoft's tabletop touch-screen Surface computers can help patients better understand their doctors.

Texas Health Resources, which operates 13 hospitals in the Dallas/Fort Worth region, is working with Microsoft to build health-care applications for Microsoft's multiuser, multitouch Surface computers. Among the first Surface applications being co-developed by THR and Microsoft is a patient-doctor relationship tool that's being demonstrated this week in San Diego as a "proof of concept" during a Gartner health care summit.

So far, Surface applications have surfaced in just a handful of other markets, including entertainment and hospitality, but not health care. For instance, casino giant Harrah's Entertainment this summer installed Surface computers at its Rio Casino in Las Vegas, allowing customers to flirt and order specialty drinks using the technology.

THR aims to be among the first to develop new health care applications for Surface computers that allow users to manipulate digital content through touch-screen technology, said CIO Edward Marx.

THR invited clinicians, including doctors and pharmacists, as well as administrators and technologists to brainstorm ideas for Surface applications after Microsoft demonstrated Surface in Dallas a few months ago for the health care organization.

The event resulted in "over 100 ideas," which have been narrowed down to a handful," said Dr. Ferdinand Velasco, THR's chief medical information officer. The tool for patient-doctor relationships is the first application being developed from those ideas, he said.

The proposed application will allow doctors to share with patients all kinds of digital content, including medical images like MRIs, X-rays, EKGs, radiology reports, and also streaming media content, such as video of coronary angiogram procedures. The goal is to help patients better understand their medical condition, doctor recommendations, and potential medical procedures so that they can in turn make better decisions about their health.

"We're moving to an era of personalized health care," said Velasco. "It's about empowering patients to make decisions. Typical communication between patients and doctors is verbal."

People have a history of going into procedures clueless, or hearing a lot of medical jargon, he said. By providing patients with easy-to-manipulate graphical content, doctors can point out, for instance, where a patient's heart abnormality is located on a 3-D digital model or video stream.

The Surface table devices would be used in THR doctor offices and possibly in patient consultation areas of its hospitals.

The team is also considering ways to make this digital content available via the Internet to patients after they leave the health care providers' offices, said Marx. "We'd like to make this portable."

And if you're wondering if touch-screen devices aren't the most hygienic way of sharing information in a medical environment, don't worry. Marx said that the Surface screen can be disinfected, plus "patients or physicians can wear gloves," when using the computers.

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