Entering and retrieving patient record information electronically makes for a powerful method for improving healthcare, speeding response, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Applications available today make this possible, but the data entry and viewing solutions have been burdened by technology not ideally suited for this purpose.
My general practitioner is frequently an early adopter of the latest technology, making rounds while balancing his open laptop – wirelessly connected to his office and hospital servers. He can retrieve test results and historical data from my patient record with a few key strokes. My dermatologist has a Palm PDA that he can use to retrieve patient data to easily write a prescription to a nearby drugstore. On the other hand, my ophthalmologist, who needs to record data carefully to monitor changes from one visit to another, spent half the time in my recent visit working on the PC at her desk to enter new data and retrieve/compare to old data in order to spot any important changes. In one case, she used an instrument that printed out hard copy results, which she then had to transcribe into her computer system. (To me, she seems too highly paid to be a data entry clerk.)
Even with these digital age improvements, in all cases these physicians also have voluminous paper folders of patient data. You wonder what’s available online and what has to be found by pulling a folder? And if it’s a lot of trouble to locate a folder, how often does the information in them get reviewed during a patient exam?
There are better ways, but ease of use, ease of implementation and cost are all factors in finding alternatives. As medical practitioners are squeezed by insurance cost controls, their need for record keeping and efficiency in seeing patients increases, while their concern about increasing their costs remains an important issue.
Enter the iPad and iPhone. Not a solution for all, but powered by the right applications, these tools have great potential for changing the patient-care landscape. Because these devices have a very capable Web browser, and an easy to use touch interface, application software like Snowbound’s Virtual Viewer AJAX can be deployed on them. A medical professional could then easily use them to clearly view medical records, scanned documents, and radiology images. Additionally, tests could be ordered, prescriptions written, and notes recorded. The iPad is particularly exciting for these purposes because it is light enough, thin enough, and features a large enough screen to both enter and view patient information easily and quickly. And because the iPad is standard mass-market technology, the cost for installing such systems should be much more affordable.