What with all the posts this week on point of care devices and cell phones, I thought I'd do something besides complain about lousy point of care computing devices. So here are my must-have features for a point of care device that I think hospitals would actually buy. First let's define the type of device.

There are currently two device classes required at the point of care. A nurse carried device supports urgent communications, access to frequently used data, support basic documentation chores, and nothing that would be hampered by a QVGA display and no keyboard. The other device class is a COW (computer on wheeles) that's used for everything else, plus any applications that require a 1280x1024 display, mouse and/or keyboard.

The whole COW thing has gotten solid adoption with a number of good solutions on the market. The big issue is how blurred things are between medical devices and COWS. Solutions for vital signs data acquisition are all over the map - Sensitron and Care Fusion (and their OEM customers), you have vendor solutions like Welch Allyn's, and then there's Stinger Medical where the cart and the medical device are one. What a mess.

The nurse carried device is what gets me excited. So here's what users need:

  • Something they can drop - repeatedly
  • Something that's splash resistant and can be wipped with common hospital disinfectants
  • A battery that lasts a 12 hour shift (although the market would probably settle for 8 hours if the battery could be easily changed)
  • Something not much bigger than a smart phone
  • A device that does VoIP and data (who wants to carry a phone and a PDA?)
  • A fingerprint swipe bar for easy user authentication
  • Wireless - both 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth (for the VoIP phone feature)
  • Security that meets HIPAA requirements
  • Something that will support more than one vendor's application

For vendors the ultimate includes:

  • A standard operating system implementation so they don't have to write code for specific vendor's devices
  • A good development environment - system level stuff for communications, watchdogs, user interface, scheduling, interrupts, queuing, etc.
  • Standards and tools that off-load some of the heavy lifting at the application layer - industry or de facto standards for communications between HIT apps and other medical devices
  • Low cost of goods

Most hospital automation problems encountered after go-live could have been solved before the sale. So if you're thinking of a solution that includes a nurse carried point of care computing device (is there a smart acronym in there somewhere?) think beyond your current project. Think way beyond, or you'll be buying replacements or duplicates for more than just the PoC computing devices.

Good luck! Pictured right is my current favorite, the OQO pocketable Windows PC. OQO has just lowered the price of their device to $1,199 - while not as droppable and wipeable as a Hand Held Products Dolphin or Symbol's PPT 8800, the OQO is a serious contender.

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