Technology is evolving at light speed, and the way healthcare providers work is changing with it.
Vice President, Healthcare and Education, Panasonic
Mobile computing technology that was unimaginable five years ago is now commonplace, and has driven efficiency and productivity in healthcare by leaps and bounds. Doctors, nurses and healthcare administrators now have the ability to work from virtually anywhere, storing data “in the cloud” and staying constantly linked to the patient and one another.
One of the primary computing devices enabling this mobile evolution has been the tablet – a light weight, powerful and easy-to-use device that has gone from a niche product to widespread healthcare enterprise adoption. Tablets are an excellent way to boost mobility and workflow efficiency, and their role in healthcare continues to grow. Tablets’ portability, flexibility and ease of use have made them a great fit for health business applications of all kinds. In fact, over the next five years total shipments of tablet computers to enterprises around the world are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 48%, according to Infinite Research.
It’s clear that tablets offer improved productivity and mobility, but this technology evolution has not come without its growing pains. In many cases, tablets are so attractive to users that many of them have not waited for their employers to issue them; they’ve brought their own personal devices to work. In other cases, healthcare providers have issued devices to their staff that are better suited for consumer use and lack critical security, durability and functionality features. This has resulted in a fragmented IT management landscape consisting of myriad devices with different operating systems, security challenges and support needs.
Recently, the technology industry has seen a shakeup that could play a large role in addressing this issue. Last fall, Microsoft released Windows 8, the most dramatic overhaul of its operating system since 1995. Offering a redesigned interface and several new features, the operating system is built for mobility, security and manageability. And when paired with enterprise-class hardware, Windows 8 opens the door for healthcare providers to embrace the benefits of tablets, without sacrificing on security, functionality and management capabilities.
Windows 8 Advantages
One of the most obvious benefits of Windows 8 is its redesigned metro interface. Built to take advantage of touchscreen technology, the interface offers enterprise professional users the fast and fluid efficiency and personalization found on today’s popular consumer devices. The operating systems use of swipe, tap and drag gestures allows users to easily switch between applications and multitask. While multitasking is a business reality, it’s a challenge for some tablet operating systems, potentially limiting worker productivity. The Windows 8 interface also includes live updating tiles, which can help business users retain situational awareness.
With the recent boom in mobile devices, many healthcare IT departments have been forced to integrate incoming tablets – with alternative operating systems and potential security risks – into legacy device management, security, and system integration structures. It can be difficult to securely and efficiently integrate mobile devices with newer operating systems like Android or iOS into a legacy Windows IT infrastructure, and often puts healthcare administrators into a “troubleshooting” mode instead of devoting their resources to ensure optimal patient care.
Designed with mobile productivity in mind, Windows 8 allows providers to avoid compromising on mobility, functionality and security by integrating seamlessly with legacy enterprise IT infrastructure. With Windows 8, users have the ability to use the same operating system in desktop and tablet environments. Not only is the IT department supporting a single operating system, users benefit from a seamless and familiar operating environment across all their devices.
Security is a critical need in healthcare technology, and Windows 8 offers several features not found in many other tablet operating systems. Secure Boot, for example, is a boot-up process that helps prevent malware from running at startup. Unlike some mobile app download services, Microsoft vets each app included in the Windows Store for quality and safety before making it available for download.
From an IT management perspective, a key benefit of Windows 8 is its ability to work with existing software and hardware. Many business-critical applications, especially in the healthcare segment, are designed to run on Windows. It’s also integrated into the enterprise in other ways, such as the many third-party cloud and software-as-a-service providers using Active Directory for identity management. Windows 8 works with mobile device management (MDM) systems as well, including offering features to secure devices from unauthorized use.
Choosing the Right Device
Equally important as the operating system is the right hardware. Purpose-built tablets, designed specifically for challenging environments, offer the durability, ease of use and warranty support that healthcare providers require, without compromising on security or manageability.
Before investing in a tablet deployment, verify that the device will offer the features your care providers and healthcare facility demand. Something as simple as a user-replaceable battery, which many consumer devices lack, could be a potential life-saver for doctors and nurses remotely accessing critical patient data. In other cases, it may be as simple as a tablet with a daylight-viewable screen, which ensures a clinician can work efficiently regardless of lighting challenges. Some hospital workers may need a device that can be used with a digitizer pen for signature capture or an all-touch interface for easy manipulation of medical images or text.
The most common causes of mobile computer failures are drops and spills. These dangers are magnified for healthcare mobile workers. Tablets should be engineered to be rugged enough to withstand a fall to a hard surface, sealed to withstand spills and dust, and easily sanitized help to ensure reliable operation.
With computer hardware such as tablets, it’s also important to understand the difference between price and cost. Even at an enterprise level, it’s natural to gravitate toward the lowest sticker price. However, if that device has a high failure rate, hinders productivity, lacks enterprise-level support or has a short standard warranty, it will end up costing more in the long run – not just in replacement costs but also labor costs, inefficiency, the loss of critical data, reduced patient satisfaction and more. Think about products in terms of their total cost of ownership in order to get the most for your money.
Tablets represent a turning point for the healthcare industry, with the promise of new efficiencies, methods of decision-making and competitive advantage. By making the right technology decisions, healthcare providers can ensure their physicians, nurses and medical staff are equipped to take advantage of these gains without compromise.
About the Author: Scott Thie is Vice President of the Healthcare & Education Sectors for Panasonic System Communications Company of North America (PSCNA). He is a 24 year veteran of the technology industry and has been with Panasonic since 1998. He successfully developed Panasonic’s Field Service Vertical and managed its growth for five years. During his career, he has held positions in sales and sales management, as well as management of marketing, business development and sales engineering. Scott’s current challenge is driving growth and extensively expanding PSCNA’s Healthcare Sector. Before joining Panasonic, Scott was District Sales Manager at Alps Electric, a company specializing in printers and OEM PC components.