You think your choice of computers is tough? Try picking one that will survive doctors' rounds, patient infections, long hours on nurses' stations and a lot more risks than the sodas and coffee spills office users pose.
Michael Hoar, director of information technology at Schoolcraft Memorial Hospitalin upper Michigan has decided to adopt thin clients because of cost, convenience and security of patient data.
The hospital has about 40 Wyse Winterms terminals on carts, mounted on walls in exam rooms, on desks and at nursing stations. As PCs break or require maintenance, they are replaced with a thin client. So far, Hoar said, the Winterms have been well-accepted by clinicians.
"I don't think any of them realize they're not using a PC," Hoar said. However, a few physicians are using tablets because they prefer that form better. (Several thin-client companies, including Wyse, have introduced a thin-client version of tablets.)
Hoar said the thin clients solve several problems at once: He can buy nine or 10 Winterms for the cost of one tablet, and theft is less of an issue. And when the hospital was using more PCs, memory cards would sometimes disappear from the computers.
The biggest benefit, though, has been convenience: "These Winterms last forever; they never break. On our terminal server, we do all of our maintenance from one place."
Still, Hoar will not completely banish PCs. Some departments, particularly radiology, have quirky applications that could destabilize the server that serves the thin clients. Other professionals interviewed for this article also noted that radiology was an exception to broader IT strategies. Because the images require so much data, for example, the radiologist might be served with a cable to transmit images even if the rest of the hospital is wireless.
More Options Coming
"There are a whole set of new issues popping up as hospitals become more digital," said Gregg Malkary, director of Spyglass Consulting Group and author of several recent surveys about the mobile-device needs of physicians and nurses.
Concerns about technology vary by clinician. For example, 10 percent of physicians worry that spreading infections would limit the use of tablet PCs for daily clinical work, while 61 percent of nurses named infection control as a problem, according to the surveys.
Meanwhile, the computing options available to clinicians as well as the computing demands made on their devices are expanding. Clinicians want smaller, lighter, more powerful devices with larger screens, longer battery lives and secure transmission.
As vendors scramble to meet these demands, hardware options available to hospitals, and the questions about how best to use them, will only increase.