Obama Health Plan Prescribes Tablets at $50 Billion a Pop

I’ve been carrying the torch for Tablet PCs from my very first glimpse a decade or so ago, but like the object of a crush who’s just not that into you, my passion has been unrequited. Despite a huge array of potential applications – education alone is as rich in possibilities as Alaska’s fabulous El Dorado Gold Mine – developers and manufacturers have stubbornly resisted commitment to tablets. It’s a big relief to find out I’m not alone, to learn in fact that I’m in such august company as Bill Gates. I urge you to read Conrad Blickstorfer’s expert analysis of just why, for all its superb qualities, the “slate” (another term for tablets) has not yielded to our protestations of abiding love.

One sector of the computer-using community that has kept the embers burning, however, is the medical profession. As soon as Microsoft released the first version of Tablet PC, doctors seized on it as the answer to their prayers. At last they were liberated from the bondage of paperwork that cost them one hour of clerical duties for every hour spent attending to patients. With its portability, handwriting recognition and easy interfaceability with centralized databases, doctors could make their rounds with Tablet in hand and enter information in real time. Tablets even recognized the traditionally execrable handwriting of doctors, but e-ink and virtual keyboards have replaced the pen and all but eliminated the possibility that the computer could read “atropine” for “aspirin.”

And now, with President Elect determined to create a $50 billion national computerized medical archive at the heart of his health care initiative, the tablet will at last find its place in the sun.

A microcosm of this world to come can be seen in Steve Lohr’s New York Times examination of a small Wisconsin clinic that in 2003 introduced wireless tablet computers to its medical staff and required it use them. Lohr describes the many virtues of the program:

A paper record is a passive, historical document. An electronic health record can be a vibrant tool that reminds and advises doctors. It can hold information on a patient’s visits, treatments and conditions, going back years, even decades. It can be summoned with a mouse click, not hidden in a file drawer in a remote location and thus useless in medical emergencies.

Modern computerized systems have links to online information on best practices, treatment recommendations and harmful drug interactions. The potential benefits include fewer unnecessary tests, reduced medical errors and better care so patients are less likely to require costly treatment in hospitals.

The widespread adoption of electronic health records might also greatly increase evidence-based medicine. Each patient’s records add to a real-time, ever-growing database of evidence showing what works and what does not. The goal is to harness health information from individuals and populations, share it across networks, sift it and analyze it to make the practice of medicine more of a science and less an art.

You can see a typical computerized e-health patient record here.

Okay, that’s one industry about to be conquered by the tablet. But I won’t rest until I see one under the arm of every college student.



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