Application for Wacom’s new WILL technology in healthcare

PC World: “Wacom has grand designs for a new graphical language…WILL, short for Wacom Ink Layer Language, will store pen strokes in a Stroke File Format and allow them to be streamed using its Stroke Messaging Format. The file formats capture not only coordinates and pressure, but also who made an ink stroke, and when…One of the more far-fetched usage scenarios Wang proposed for WILL involved digitally signing documents using a pen that would certify who had manipulated it thanks to a built-in DNA sampling device.”

Like it or not the human race still loves to communicate via pen and paper.1 It’s a process that’s been ingrained in us for a very long time. It’s natural, and it’s going to be quite some time before we’re able to move to a completely different medium for communication. We’re well on our way to a digital world, but that won’t replace our need to use pen and paper for a great many things for quite some time to come.

Pen and paper are still great for taking notes, sketching ideas, and communicating ideas. I don’t know about you, but when I take notes I never do it in a completely linear fashion. I jot something down and often return to the thought to add context, images, or additional thoughts. I’ve tried doing this with a laptop, i.e. keyboard, but can never manage to duplicate the ease of which I take handwritten notes.

Using a tablet with active digitizer has certainly helped me with my desire to move away from pen and paper, but I’ve found difficulty sharing that information in a convenient way. Try taking notes in OneNote and sharing them with someone using a product from Google of Apple. Not going to happen. And forget about inking in a browser; it’s possible, but not easy.

Now think about the workflow that we use to document everything we do in a hospital, from patient vital signs to physician progress notes to ordering a medication. It’s pen and paper centric. This process is slowly changing with the advent of electronic health records (EHR), but it’s very cumbersome. EHR’s are cumbersome because we still haven’t figured out how to best use a computer to replace our day to day documentation without significantly impacting our preferred workflow, i.e. jotting things down with pen and paper. People in healthcare are well aware of the problem, but the best solution eludes us. Companies like Shareable Ink get it, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. Livescribe is another company that understands our need to support ubiquitous digital ink. Unfortunately their solution is also only a piece of the puzzle. In my mind WILL fills the gaps.

What Wacom is doing should be openly embraced by healthcare as it provides a solution to a problem that won’t be fully solved for quite some time. Computerized EHR’s designed around keyboard and mouse are not the answer. They’ll eventually be accepted by healthcare providers, but not because they’re awesome. No, healthcare providers will eventually settle for them because they have no other choice. The future will likely bring the ultimate answer to the problem, but not in my lifetime. Until then WILL is the answer.

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  1. I use “pen and paper” loosely here to represent anything people use to quickly jot something down; a napkin, white boards, chalk board, stone tablet and rock, etc.