Hospitals Test Intel-Developed Tablet PC For Nurses

UCSF Medical Center is one of a handful of facilities helping expand Intel's universe beyond the PC.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

February 20, 2007

4 Min Read

The University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, is testing a mobile data-entry device that was developed by Intel and Motion Computing with the goal of saving nurses time during patient visits and reducing human error.

The hospital was one of several test sites for a handheld device called the C5. Sporting a 10.4-inch display screen, the portable PC was manufactured by Motion. The partnership also marks Intel's entry into hospital-focused mobile computing.

With the device, the hospital says nurses working in acute care units can now input data into a computer, rather than on notepad paper first, which would be typed into a laptop later. The latter scenario, according to UCSF officials, can lead to a delay of as much as two and a half hours in getting patient data into the medical center's database, and can sometimes lead to errors that could hurt the patient.

In worst-case scenarios, the wrong medicine or dosage could be prescribed to a patient. Or perhaps a nurse, who is regularly assigned several patients, could input data for the wrong person. But rather than focus on the weaknesses of current paper-based workflows in hospitals, Intel, Motion and UCSF executives described at a news conference how the new device could ease nurses' administrative workload, so they can spend more time with patients.

"This is about re-inventing the workflow and the systems to make the hardware work," Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center, said during a news conference on Tuesday.

The C5's innovation isn't in the technology itself, which is available in other devices, but in the design, said Dr. Michael Blum, chief medical information officer at UCSF. In designing the prototype, based on the company's mobile clinical assistant platform, Intel did a good job in adapting the technology to fit the workplace. "What's new is appreciating the ecosystem in which (the devices) have to work," Blum said.

The tablet PC runs on Windows XP, which is the standard operating system for most hospitals, Blum said. No patient data is kept in the C5 for security reasons, but is beamed over a Wi-Fi connection to the hospital's database as soon as a nurse hits the save button.

In addition, the C5 can scan the bar code on a patient's wrist bracelet to call up the person's medical record. The device uses radio frequency identification, or RFID, for security, so a nurse can wave a smart card over the computer for authentication. The RFID support also can be used for inventory purposes, such as tracking the medicines being used.

Also, because the C5 is used in UCSF's acute-care unit, where people undergo organ transplants, it has to be cleaned with disinfectants regularly. To prevent damage to the machine, Motion has built a chemical-resistant chassis with few grooves where bacteria can collect.

The medical center is hoping to reduce, if not eliminate, the use of a system it calls a "computer on wheels," which is a laptop on a cart that has to be wheeled from one patient room to another. The rolling system -- a mass of wires and cables -- contains separate devices for jobs that can be accomplished with one C5. "I don't have to try to figure out which piece of technology to take with me in order to do a task," Blum said.

But despite praising the device, UCSF officials acknowledged that the university, the only UC campus dedicated solely to the health sciences, has yet to figure out the return on investment. That will be determined over the coming months as nurses use the nine devices in the trial. Once the information is gathered, it will then have to be presented to a capital budget committee, which would have to approve any purchases, Blum said.

Then there's the price. Each C5 costs $2,199, which is expensive for rolling out across the university. During the news conference, Laret said the university has yet to negotiate a deal with the technology companies.

The C5 project stems from Intel's digital health initiative launched 18 months ago, as part of a strategy to focus on developing with partners computers tailored for specific industries. By developing specialty devices, Intel hopes to build new markets outside of consumer and business PCs, an area that is maturing and no longer has the dramatic growth of the past.

Health care is expected to grow dramatically over the next couple of decades as baby boomers become senior citizens. Intel's partnership with Motion in building the C5 is a good example of how targeted these industry-specific devices can be. "This machine was built for (nurses) and how they do their job day in and day out," said Paul Otellini, president and chief executive of Intel.

Alegent Health, a large health care system across Nebraska and Iowa, also is conducting a Motion C5 study. Intel conducted pilot studies of a similarly configured mobile devices in three other hospitals, including El Camino Hospital in Northern California, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom, and Changi General Hospital in Singapore.

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