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UCSF nurses test tablet PCs

Intel and Motion Computing show off the C5 tablet PC, a digital assistant for overworked health care professionals. Photos: Intel checks into the hospital

SAN FRANCISCO--Nurses at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center will be among the first health care workers to use a tablet-like PC developed specifically for medical professionals by Intel and Motion Computing.

The $2,199 C5 is technically called a "mobile clinical assistant," but it's basically a small tablet PC redesigned for a hospital environment. Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Motion Computing CEO Scott Eckert showed off the device during an event here Tuesday. The C5 was during last September's Intel Developer Forum.

"It allows work to be done where work gets done," Otellini said. The C5 looks like a small slate-style tablet PC with a handle at the top. It has been coated with a special material that can withstand the frequent use of disinfectant cleansers and that helps protect the device against falls.

Nurses at UCSF and other hospitals around the country currently measure a patient's vital signs with one medical device. But they have to manually transfer the data to one of several rolling notebook PCs--referred to as COWs, or computers on wheels--so it can be captured in a patient's medical history file and made available to other doctors.

This low-tech approach can lead to transcription errors by fatigued nurses and potentially serious medical problems for patients, said Ann Williamson, nursing director at UCSF. The C5 is directly connected to the other medical equipment used to take a patient's pulse or measure their blood pressure, so data is instantly recorded by the C5 directly off the medical device and transferred to a hospital server.

This also allows nurses to spend more time with patients, because they don't have to leave the patient to find the nearest COW or deal with having to log in to the shared COW every time, Williamson said.

Intel and Motion Computing announced the launch of the Motion C5, which will be used to improve the efficiency of measuring and inputting patient data.

In a world of profit-driven hospitals, $2,199 might seem like a lot to spend on a tablet PC, especially when UCSF would like to make sure every nurse working a shift has one at his or her disposal. Currently, a floor staff of about 10 nurses shares four or five COWs, Williamson said.

But the COW is pretty expensive itself, said Michael Blum, chief medical information officer for UCSF. The current setup consists of a bulky wheeled cart carrying a standard notebook PC encased in a spill-proof chassis. And the notebook uses a special $1,000 battery that tends to last only 18 months or so, he said.

Intel and Motion are hoping the C5 helps drag the health care industry into the 21st century of information technology. Health care is the world's largest industry, but it is woefully behind in its use of IT for tasks like record keeping, Otellini said. Intel created its Digital Health Group about two years ago to learn more about how the technology industry can serve--and take advantage of--the looming surge in demand for health care services as Baby Boomers age.

Tablet PCs haven't taken over the PC industry the way some might have hoped, but they are extremely popular with health care workers, Motion's Eckert said. The devices "enable doctors and nurses to deliver the best care they can," he said.