What do you think of touchscreen technology for healthcare?

Xavier Lanier over at GottaBeMobile.com asks the question “would [users] pay extra to have touch capabilities on their notebooks? Keep in mind, we’re not talking slates, convertibles, UMPC, netbook or MID form factors here- just plain old 12″ to 17″ clamshell notebooks.” It’s no secret that I am a big fan of touchscreen technology, but I don’t think I would be willing to pay extra for a touchscreen on a notebook. Tapping the screen on a notebook seems like it would be a little awkward. However, a touchscreen on a convertible notebook would be a completely different story. I would be willing to shell out a little extra cash for that combination.

The author further discusses the likelihood of more and more touchscreen devices, especially notebooks, coming to the market in the near future. Extending the idea a little further, what about the use of touchscreens in healthcare, and more specifically pharmacy? I don’t see the need for touchscreen devices when sitting at a terminal typing your life away, but what about when you’re standing in front of a computer terminal. I always feel a desire to touch a computer screen when I’m standing in front of it, which seems odd because I frequently yell at people for touching my desktop monitors with their grimy little fingers. It must have something to do with ergonomics or perhaps because it’s not always intuitive to grab a mouse while standing.

Our AutoPack machine from Talyst has a touchscreen, but most of the packager’s functionality is controlled by a remote terminal a few feet away. And on the other side of the pharmacy, our automated storage carousel (AutoCarousel) doesn’t have a touchscreen, but I wish it did. I’ve mentioned before that I think this would be a nice option. As I mentioned above, I always feel compelled to reach out and touch the monitor when standing in front of the carousel. It feels like a more natural movement for some reason. The monitor is right in front of my face and it always feels awkward to reach down and grab the mouse. Of course I could use the keyboard to move around, but a simple tap on the screen would be faster. I’ve spoken with one of the Talyst engineers about using a touchscreen on the carousel, and while they have looked into it and feel it could be easily done, I was reminded that the AutoPharm software was not currently optimized for touchscreen operation. Ah and there’s the rub, most software isn’t quite ready for all the new touchscreen technology. While Windows 7 will bring advanced multi-touch capabilities to the operating system, software just isn’t quite ready to take advantage of all that great functionality.

Touchscreens are becoming more and more popular, especially with the increased use of smartphones, UMPCs, and MIDs. Touchscreen navigation on these smaller devices is a must if you hope to make them useful to the user. While a touchscreen isn’t a necessity on larger device yet, it is a welcome luxury. Like most great technological advances, it will take quite some time for touchscreens to filter down into pharmacy, but I think it’ll eventually get here. After all you don’t have to use the touchscreen for navigation, but it sure would be a nice option to have. Imagine entering an order on a CPOE system with nothing more than the tip of your finger. If properly designed, the physician wouldn’t have to type anything. Simply tap a pre-built link with the drug, dose, route and frequency desired and hit “send’.

What about the application of a Microsoft Surface system in the pharmacy that could allow pharmacists to pull up interactive patient information while sitting around a table. Or perhaps the same idea could apply to medical teams, allowing them to perform virtual rounds with every system in the hospital literally at their fingertips. The possible applications for touchscreen technology in pharmacy makes my brain hurt.

What do you think?

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