CIS on a Surface Pro Tablet

SurfacePro with Keyboard

microsoft surface pro and electronic medical recordsWhen my marketing director asked me to write a blog about using CIS on a tablet I was very conflicted.  I have used a tablet myself for over 10 years, but only for the things I think it is good at: taking notes, and having information available when I am away from my desktops. Does our product work well on a tablet? Yes and no.

Tablet computers have been around for more than 13 years.  The first one I owned ran Microsoft Windows and was fairly bulky.  It was interesting, but back in the day, the battery life wasn’t great and Microsoft had put most of its effort into its desktop computers.  The common differences between a tablet and a notebook computer is that the tablets can provide you a flat surface to work on, – usually called slate – they always have a touch screen, and they can accommodate onscreen input – writing and pen.  There are different types of tablets, some have a pen interface; some are meant for consumer user; some have cellular connections.

Choosing a Tablet

When choosing a tablet, I chose between three options: Apple’s iPad, an Android device, and a Windows tablet. I already own an older iPad, but I have found it doesn’t really help me with work; CIS users may find it beneficial for looking up information on CIS through a remote access connection. Inputting information into the system can be difficult on an iPad, however, due to the size of the on-screen keyboard. Since the iPad does not come with a pen, this keyboard is the most common way of data entry. The iPad has a strong cellular connection however, which makes it a great tool for looking things up in your CIS EMR.

Android devices are tricky to recommend.  There are a number of them, so you have lots of options, but unless you are familiar with Android or you have decided to make the switch, I would stay clear of these tablets.  The strength of these tablets tends to be price and varying sizes available.

Currently, I use a Microsoft Surface Pro running Windows 8.1.  This is the best tablet I have ever owned. I like the fact that it has a pen interface as well as a very convenient real keyboard.  I don’t like the fact that it requires a special power connection. Since our clients are already familiar with Windows and because CIS is built for Windows, you can run CIS directly on the tablet.  For those of you that plan to take the plunge into tablets to use with your EMR system, I recommend getting one that is pen based and has at least a 1280×800 resolution screen.  The Microsoft Surface Pro and several of the Lenovo tablets have very strong offerings for CIS users.

The benefits of using a tablet

  • Like a laptop, tablets are designed to be charged and then carried around.
  • Less typing potential.  If you go with a pen-based tablet, there is almost always handwriting recognition software that allows you to write in a box and have it translate into text in your medical note or anywhere in CIS that accepts typed keyboard entry.
  • Touch-based interface.  This can be very useful in many areas of CIS. For example, think about filling out a lab requisition: just touch your finger to the test on the screen and it is checked off. In some cases, the touch-screen interface is more intuitive on a tablet, than when using a mouse.
  • Other Apps.  All tablets now have applications that are built specifically for them.  For physicians, for example, there are medical reference tools, for example.
  • All-in-one-design.  Tablets usually include everything you need for a computer: a screen, a hard drive, and other core items.  Many also include nice-to-have items such as two cameras, or wireless connectivity.

The drawbacks of using a tablet

  • The on-screen keyboard. On many tablets you are still typing, except now the keyboard is taking up space on the screen.  Even with pen-based tablets, you will still have some typing; for example, if you type something not common like a password with a mix of numbers, letters and symbols, you will likely need to use a keyboard.
  • Not Upgradeable.  Since this a complete package, you cannot easily upgrade their components.  If you want a bigger screen, your only option is to purchase a completely new device.
  • Not as expandable.  Even on my MS Surface I only have 2 USB ports. The iPad is non-expandable.  So you have to be careful when choosing a device, since it might not be able to connect to any more devices to make it more useful.
  • Most tablets are not going to last as long as the average physician requires without a recharge and charging may take longer for some devices than a typical lunch break.  With batteries no longer swappable, we sometime recommend that a user have two tablets, one they are working with and one that is charging.  Some users have bought tablets for every room and leave them plugged in.
  • Screen size. What I believe to be the biggest problem for tablets (and notebook computers) is the smaller screen size.  When people ask me what is the one hardware item I think they should over-invest in, I always say the monitor: go for a 24” or 27’’ inch monitor if you can.  Users eventually want to see more on the screen at the same time, so screen real estate is precious.  A large tablet screen is about 12” in size.

So, do I recommend tablets?  That depends.  If the drawbacks will not affect you then the answer is a yes, why not?  However, while I am a huge fan of the tablet, I do tend to get more done on my desktop and prefer to work on a desktop when I can or when I am in a rush.