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More to HIMSS than EHRs: Four Technologies for Patients and Providers

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, March 9, 2010

Amidst all the buzz about clinical data sharing and the accompanying alphabet soup of acronyms (EHRs, EMRs, PHRs, RHIOs and HIEs, not to mention ARRA and HITECH), it's easy to forget that the annual HIMSS conference is also a showcase for technology of the hardware variety—physical products and gadgets you can see, feel, and, in some cases, hold in one hand.

Keep in mind that there were about 900 vendors with booths in two exhibit halls so large you measure them not in square feet but in acres.

According to my pedometer, I walked about 26 miles over the course of six days—a literal marathon of keynotes, sessions, and tours of vendor booths. So with apologies to the other 896 vendors at the show, here are four products that impressed me. I have only one complaint about three of the technologies—along with many others at the show—but I'll get to that later.

Show me the way
I logged more than 15,000 steps on the first full day of the conference, in large part because I kept getting lost. While wandering aimlessly around I (finally) noticed one of the 30 NCR Wayfinding kiosks set up around the three conference halls.

Using a touch screen monitor, I entered the number of the booth I was trying to find (you could also search by company name) and up came an interactive map to my destination that I could print out and take with me. It's easy to see how the technology would help improve the patient experience, especially in large, aging, and sprawling hospital campuses.

The way-finding kiosk, made by Duluth, GA-based NCR is in use at Houston, TX-based The Methodist Hospital System along with some of the NCR's other products, including a patient portal and a payment manager.

Scan me
A compact, portable ultrasound machine that can be used at point of care, such as in a physician's office or the ER, GE Healthcare's Vscan is bulkier than a smart phone—but not by much. At 3 by 5.3 inches it weighs less than a pound. It has a wand about the size of a granola bar and a neat little USB docking station that syncs with a computer to upload images. The battery lasts for about an hour of scanning. The device is operated with a thumb wheel that looks a lot like the iPod control. And the voice recording feature means you don't have to have a third hand to operate it. Images from the device can be viewed and stored in the patient's medical record.

Although the main purpose of the device is clinical, because the size of most images is relatively small and come in common file types such as jpeg, mpeg, and mp3, patients can share them with friends and family online. You can annotate the images with a stylus—writing "It's a boy! with an arrow pointing to the proof, for example. The device uses "GE's high-quality black and white image technology and color-coded blood flow imaging," according to the company. I'm no clinician, but the sample images looked pretty good to me. And yes, you could tell it was a boy.

Entertain and educate me
Several products at the show aim to make patient education simpler and more enjoyable for the patient and less time-consuming for caregivers.

Using a remote or pillow speaker and a menu interface designed for a fifth-grade education level, patients can use the LodgeNetRX® Interactive Patient Television System to make non-clinical requests, such as ordering more pillows and blankets, or scheduling a visit from a case worker or spiritual counselor.

It also allows patients to view, on-demand educational videos customized to their illness or condition, order meals from menus customized to their dietary restrictions, and when they're ready for a break, watch videos of puppies customized to . . . well, the puppies aren't customized, but they sure are cute.

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