Canadian mental health hospital adopts tablet PCs

The icing on the cake for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences is the 40 tablet PCs it successfully deployed late last year for mobile information access after having shifted from paper-based patient charts to an entirely digital environment.

“We felt the tablet device was key in allowing them to engage and adapt and embrace,” said Tammy Young, technical analyst for information systems with the Whitby, Ont.-based mental health facility.

Having point-of-care access to patient information means Ontario Shores staff can more easily perform tasks such as admitting patients, submitting medication orders and discussing patient care plans.

“Sometimes in the Old World they would have to wait to get access to a desktop,” said Young. “Now they don’t have to worry about that.”

Equipped with 300 beds and 900 inpatient and outpatient clinicians, Ontario Shores first deployed 20 tablet PCs last October, followed by another 20 one month later.

Young recalls the clinicians were initially nervous but as time elapsed, they increasingly integrating the mobile devices into their daily processes including ones the facility had not anticipated. While pre-live metrics were done to ascertain performance, it will still be months before Ontario Shores can measure the business benefits of having gone mobile.

The devices deployed by Ontario Shores, built by tablet-maker Motion Computing Corp., runs health care management software from Westwood, Mass.-based Meditech Corp. and is the first Canadian hospital to run the newest version 6.0.

Scott Ball, Motion Computing’s business development executive for Canada based in Mississauga, Ont., said mobile point-of-care at health care facilities such as Ontario Shores basically means having a “portal” into patient information systems.

“There is no running back and forth to the nurse’s desk or the medical records” because users can immediately verify information and results, and place physician orders, said Ball.

Biometric fingerprint security controls device access. The tablets are also designed for rugged environments and can be cleaned and disinfected.

Motion Computing has spent six years developing hardware for the health care space. Ball said, over time, the idea of “taking computing capability to the bedside” has grown in popularity.

But the challenges to deploying mobile devices haven’t changed much. Application development for these mobile form factors, said Ball, is the biggest hurdle. It’s difficult for some application vendors, more familiar with building apps for large screens, to adapt to the smaller form factor screens. Moreover, the sheer complexity of interweaving processes in health care facilities makes for tricky software design.

Ball said the lack of infrastructure support and users’ willingness to adopt the technology are also ongoing challenges in the mobile point-of-care space.

While wireless infrastructure in health care facilities was shoddy six years ago, Ball noted “that’s certainly changing now.”

Young pointed out that, besides the initial nervousness among staff, those challenges listed by Ball were not encountered at Ontario Shores. However, much effort was made to pepper the implementation process with staff consultations given mobility was new as was the Meditech 6.0 software.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t throwing technology in the ring just to say we have it,” said Young.

Moving forward, Ontario Shores will extend its mobile information access strategy to outpatient clinicians. At that time, Young said, they will decide how many more devices will be deployed.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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