Monday, 22 June 2009 12:39

Panasonic scrubs up for hospital use with Toughbook H1

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Panasonic's latest Toughbook mobile computer is designed specifically for the health industry. Features of the Toughbook H1 include an easily sanitised shell.

The Panasonic Toughbook H1 is based on Intel's mobile clinical assistant (MCA) reference design, but with substantial refinement by the company's engineers in collaboration with healthcare workers.

Considerations including ergonomics, durability, infection control, battery management and hidden costs were given particular emphasis during the two-year development program. A survey carried out by Panasonic in 2007 found that while a majority of respondents were interested in the MCA concept, and even bigger proportion were dissatisfied with then-current devices due to shortcomings in those areas.

According to John Penn, healthcare development manager at Panasonic Australia, ergonomic aspects include a handle on the top of the unit, modest weight (approximately 1.5 kg), good thermal management, a built-in 'easel' foot, a dual-function (touch or stylus) screen, a front-mounted stylus holder, and a barcode scanner on the base (so that it can be easily pointed by someone holding the H1's handle).

Durability comes from the magnesium chassis, a rugged design (drop tested to 90cm), the shock-mounted removable hard drive, and a sealed, fanless case.

The sealed case with no vents or sockets is easily sanitised, and the skin is made from an alcohol-resistant material. Software for the H1 includes a sanitisation reminder that also keeps an auditable record of cleaning.

Good battery life is achieved with a combination of an Atom CPU, low-power consumption supporting circuits, and high-capacity, dual hot-swappable batteries.

Standard features of the Toughbook H1 include 6-hour battery life, Windows XP downgrade rights, sanitisable handstrap, glare-resistant display, 2MP camera, contactless smartcard reader, RFID reader, fingerprint reader, WiFi, and Bluetooth.

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Integrated options include a barcode reader, GPS, and 3G.

With appropriate software, these features can help speed data collection (eg, from Bluetooth-enabled monitoring devices or simply by allowing clinical staff to enter information directly into the system rather than capturing it on paper for later entry) and provide on-the-spot access to the latest patient information during treatment.

Other functions outlined by Panasonic in a demonstration held in the Centre for Health Innovation at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital included scanning a patient's wristband to verify identity, reading the barcode on medications before administration, taking a photograph of the state of a wound, displaying diagnostic images (eg X-rays) at the bedside, and using an RFID-based application to locate the nearest wheelchair.

The Centre provides a fully-isolated medical grade network, allowing the demonstration and evaluation of equipment and software in a realistic health environment. It is a not-for-profit initiative of Alfred Health, La Trobe University, Monash University, and the Baker Heart Research Institute.

An early adopter of the H1 in Australia is the Dubbo RSL Aged Care Association, a 187-bed facility on two sites in New South Wales. Having selected iCare's Clinical Care and Medication Management Solution, the Association purchased 28 H1s for bedside use - one for every two nurses on duty.

The Association's nurses use the H1s to capture patient information at the bedside, and to help with the safe administration of medications.

The $A4999 Toughbook H1 is generally available in Australia from this month.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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