Remember the days people used to walk with stereos and their arms fatigued from holding those bulky video cameras? 

Now all those devices and functions fit in your pocket via your smartphone. A similar replacement, which we’re covering today, is happening in the healthcare industry thanks to medical computers and tablets.

Fax Machine – Why to Say Goodbye

Fax machines scan paper, create an image called a “facsimile”, and send it to another fax machine miles away to print out. While this was cutting-edge technology during their  heyday in the Eighties, their limitations are increasingly apparent in today’s fast-paced networked world in healthcare. 

Time waster – Printing from fax machines is a slow process especially if the file is large and/or has multiple pages. Precious time is wasted waiting for that information which could be better spent with patient care. Healthcare IT (HIT) must devote time to these machines fixing them and supplying them with paper, ink, etc.

Lethal paper jams – Printouts from fax machines can jam, stop printing, or be out of order. This can have deadly consequences in healthcare where providers rely on accurate information delivered in a timely manner.

Confusing HIPAA Compliance – Fax machines in and of themselves are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which safeguards patient records. Specifically, data streaming from one fax machine to another does not need to be encrypted. This means hackers could theoretically obtain sensitive patient info with impunity if they hack a fax line. 

On the other hand, a fax printout is covered by the act. This means a medical office must ensure authorized personnel are at the receiving machine to promptly pick up patient records. There are severe penalties or worse if unauthorized personnel receive such sensitive data. (Example: sending to the wrong fax number).  

Medical computers and tablets answer these limitations by doing away with the fax machine entirely. Electronic medical records (EMR) can be sent almost instantaneously with no chance of a “paper jam” distorting patient information. That same information is also protected per HIPAA with encryption software and safeguards like RFID readers. 

Electronic Medical Records – Patient Files Upgrade from Paper

Records are an essential part of patient care, and for years it was compiled using paper into files. As populations grew and people lived longer, the system’s limitations became increasingly apparent:

  • Paper files are bulky and take up lots of space.  
  • They’re vulnerable to water, fire, and other hazards like termites. 
  • Paper decomposes if not properly stored and preserved, which can be a very expensive process. 
  • Mistakes are easy to make as handwritten notes could be misinterpreted, copied wrongly, or not written in at all.
  • Files need to be copied if multiple medical personnel need to view them. 
  • Files sent via the post office or similar services can take days to even weeks to reach their destination. 
  • Providers may not have ready access to a patient’s history and medical records (example: out of state). They’ll have to rely on the telephone or fax machine or both to get the information from the patient’s medical office, which is time-consuming. 

Electronic medical record (EMR) software was designed to address these issues by bringing a paperless system to healthcare

  • A patient’s EMR displayed on a medical computer is standardized to minimize human error like unintelligible writing by a provider.
  • Access by authorized personnel is readily available through a workstation computer or medical tablet. There’s no need for multiple copies. 
  • Thanks to PoE medical computers, PCs can be placed away from outlets in convenient locations like outside patient rooms. This allows access to info like patient status. 
  • EMR files are kept within on-site servers or, increasingly, in the cloud. There’s no need to devote precious office space for bulky files. 
  • Collaboration is easy since all authorized personnel like providers and medical staff can pull up a patient’s EMR simultaneously. Distance is not a factor, either: via telemedicine, an assisting provider thousands of miles away can view the same record and join in the conversation. 

RFID Reader / Barcode Scanner

RFID readers and barcode scanners are used in any industry that needs recording and tracking of a large amount of data. In healthcare this includes:

Asset tracking – Medical facilities from offices to hospitals have a huge number of assets to manage. RFID readers and barcode scanners can be used in tracking the movements of these items whether they’re an X-ray machine or personal protective equipment (PPE). This reduces the loss and theft of hospital equipment and supplies as well as help manage equipment flow processes and resource planning.

Patient identification and tracking –  RFID and barcode technologies can be used to provide a unique ID for each patient. This helps prevent medical mistakes and errors due to patient misidentification. Medical staff, with the swipe of a scanner or reader, can bring up that patient’s EMR and other information like whereabouts in a hospital. Patient relatives and other visitors can also be provided with a secure, temporary ID access when visiting loved ones. 

EMR security – Patient records must be kept secure. RFID can be used to ensure this through two factor authentication. That way, only those that know both the proper password and have an RFID card can log on to a hospital’s computer system. 

RFID readers and barcode scanners normally are sold as separate devices. Scanned data is stored in them to be later transferred to a computer database. Medical tablets can be equipped with either technology (or both). This means less equipment for healthcare workers to carry when doing their rounds. The tablet can also upload collected data to the network or cloud thanks to Wi-Fi. This removes another step to the worker’s task. And unlike off-the-shelf readers and scanners, medical tablets can be built with antimicrobial properties, fanless design, and rated IP65. These features help minimize the spread of pathogens either on the tablet or the environment around them. Staff can then work safely around patients.

Telephone – Expanding Reach through Telemedicine

The telephone in healthcare is used in various ways:

  • Allow providers and medical staff to diagnose patients remotely.
  • Relay vital patient health records when to hospitals outside a healthcare group’s reach (example: out of state). 
  • Allow providers to converse with each over a diagnosis.

Medical computers and tablets greatly expand the telephone’s reach via telemedicine and can potentially replace it. With them, staff can:

  • See and hear patients directly on the PC thanks to built-in audio and video features. 
  • Providers can hold a virtual conference among themselves on their medical computers.
  • Bring up patient EMR while on a call without dealing with a telephone receiver.
  • Tablets can be configured to take / receive calls like a telephone with the right app. 

In addition, features such as certified medical grade, antibacterial properties, fanless design, and IP65 rated make these machines safe around patients which can’t be said for off-the-shelf telephone systems. 

Workstation on Wheels – Bringing Mobility to Medical Floor

Medical computers can replace paper records, fax machines, scanners and readers, and the telephone. Providers and other medical staff, though, need to access a computer station, which isn’t always possible when making the rounds. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to be doing rounds and then chart everything into the EMR at the nurses station. This is inefficient and takes time away from patient care.

Medical cart computers or workstation on wheels solves the issue by allowing staff members to simply bring the computer with them. 

Powered WoW – these medical carts come with a built-in battery to power the medical computer. Peripherals like an RFID-scanner, barcode reader, or even a mini-printer can also be powered by the battery. 

There are several disadvantages with this setup:

  • They’re heavy primarily because of the battery. This makes them tiring to medical staff, especially nurses.
  • Expensive. Powered WoW can cost between 2k-5k more than non-powered models due to that battery.
  • Recharging the battery takes the WoW out of circulation for hours. 

Non-powered WoW – This medical cart does not have a battery attached to it. Instead, the medical computer uses removable “hot swap” batteries for power itself and even peripherals like mini-printers. Staff can simply swap out spent batteries with fresh ones from the charger. The advantages of this setup include:

  • Much lighter than powered medical carts.
  • Less expensive. Can even repurpose older carts, cutting costs even further. 
  • No downtime as spent batteries are swapped for fresh ones. Can theoretically run 24/7.
  • Battery-powered medical monitors with hot-swappable batteries are also available. They can be used to power a hospital’s thin client PC, which extends their use which further keeps costs down.  

Staff’s Personal Devices

If medical computers and tablets can do most, if not all, the above features, why not just put them into that ultimate all-in-one device, the personal smartphone?

This is the thinking behind “Bring Your On Device” or BYOD. Many industries including healthcare thought it would be easier and even cost-effective if employees used their personal smartphones for business purposes. 

This idea quickly proved complicated with healthcare due to: 

Lack of compliance with HIPAA –  Enacted in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law to patient information. This meant the enactment of a host of cybersecurity features like encryption, firewalls, secure passwords, etc. Many of these are not available on regular smartphones. In fact, they may be forbidden (see below).

No Access to OS – Many smartphone and tablet manufacturers forbid access to the inner workings to their hardware and software. Healthcare IT (HIT) cannot then install the proper features for the devices to work with the medical facilities networks and be HIPAA-compliant. 

No standardization of features – Standards are the norm in healthcare. Every piece of equipment from IV bags to scalpels has a specific set of features to be used in a specific way. This makes it easy for staff to focus on patient care without worrying how to use their tools. Unfortunately, BYOD is not standard. Customization in fact is one of its selling points. This makes them a headache to HIT, which has to make sure each device is compatible with all necessary medical hardware and software. Frequent OS updates are especially complex since the healthcare industry keeps a lot of older equipment called “legacy” in vital roles. 

Vector for disease – Medical facilities like hospitals spend a lot of time cleaning to minimize diseases like hospital-acquired infections (HAI) from affecting patients. BYOD, though, are a hotbed of pathogens as their frequently used both in ﹘ and out ﹘ of medical settings. Worse, they’re not designed to withstand the routine cleaning used in healthcare. Few are sealed against water and liquid cleaners, and their casings will quickly be worn out by harsh chemicals routinely used in medicine. 

Medical computers and tablets are designed to address these issues. The hardware and software is standard and open for HIT to install the necessary features for them to be HIPAA-compliant. Many have a smart card reader, an RFID reader, or fingerprint reader paired with Windows authentication to protect data from unauthorized access. Finally, antimicrobial properties built within the casing inhibits bacterial growth which protects the devices. 

Closing Comments

Many devices like paper records and even the telephone are becoming obsolete as their functions are taken over by medical computers and tablets. There are numerous advantages to this especially in hospital settings where infection is a big concern. 

If your healthcare group is interested in how medical computers can potentially replace up to six types of medical equipment, contact a representative from Cybernet. 

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