Portability in Motion
EMR/EHRs have various input methods like dictation, typing, scanning, and digital writing. The most convenient form factor in terms of portability and natural hand writing recognition is perhaps the tablet PC. This is so because to carry laptops, desktop computers, scanning hardware, or audio hardware isn’t very mobile. Tablets are carried in the same way a pen and pad are carried and this results in a very comfortable and natural form of using technology. Tablets are wireless in networking nature, and that adds further support to their mobility. Tablets come with rechargeable batteries that have many hours of duration, depending on the tablet model. The iPad, for example, has a touted battery life of ten hours. This includes periods of non-use. In full use, the iPad would last around four hours, which is still pretty good.
Although a stylus can imitate the pen, it is not a perfect fit. The touchscreen interface of a tablet, although good, is still somewhat weak on touch recognition. This leads to hard-to-read “writings” on a tablet. Some tablets are better than others. I’ve seen doctors fully utilizing their stylus with the touch recognition technology. There’s another small catch to using a tablet and that has to do with data structure. With a laptop, the notes are keyed into the EMR/EHR system and thus allows for the notes to be easily structured and search-able. Keyword searches can be made and the data entry that was performed on the computer would allow for proper indexing of the information as text. With a tablet, there are two options:
1) Use the handwriting recognition software
2) Use the “scribbles” in free-form
There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms. Using the handwriting recognition software will structure your data for indexing and easy searching, but it will slow down your writing speed as your words are carefully deciphered into readable text. If you’ve ever used a palm pilot or PDA, you would be familiar with the handwriting recognition feature. Many a times, the writing is misinterpreted into something else. For example, you could be writing “willow” and it could be interpreted it as “uuillav”. This can be very annoying.
The second option, on the other hand, allows for quick notes to be made and saves more time than having the handwriting recognition software interpret what you’re writing. It saves the touch input from the stylus as more of an image format that can be viewed later and interpreted by the doctor when viewed. This doesn’t allow for the writing to be saved as text, and is therefore not search-able or index-able. Doctors using this method are still able to read their own writing and are able to read the patient’s history that was made prior to their current visit, but the encounters are not data organized as a keyboard text entry would be.
Slate or Convertible Style?
Tablets come in two styles: a slate or a convertible style. A slate is like an iPad where there is no keyboard attached and it is held like a pen and a pad writing tablet. A convertible on the other hand has a keyboard built into it and can switch from being a tablet to being a laptop. The convertible style can be very convenient in terms of entering in data that is structured through the keyboard, as well as flipping to the slate style for jotting down free-form notes. The drawback to the convertible style, though, is that it weighs more and can be hard to carry.