Is a touch screen for you?

February 3, 2006

Technology Consult

Touch screens are a common sight at restaurant cashier counters, but not in doctors' offices. Only a handful of EHR vendors design their programs for this method of data entry. Yet, when MicroFour customers are offered the choice of either a touch-screen system or one based on a tablet computer or a PDA, 50 percent go for the touch screen. It's also the choice of one out of six doctors at another EHR vendor called JMJ Technologies.

Don't confuse touch screens with those found on tablet computers with the Windows XP Tablet PC operating system. These won't respond to a finger or a plastic stylus. They work only with a special electronic pen.

Touch technology works best on a big screen, since there's more room for those finger-sized icons and buttons. That favors desktop computers with large monitors, but puts notebooks and tablets at a disadvantage.

For physicians like Michael Cockrell, these limitations morph into benefits. He says it's faster to press a big button with his finger than to press a tiny button with a stylus or electronic pen. Likewise, a touch screen is kinder to his eyes.

The simplicity of a system designed for a finger also lessens the intimidation factor for computer novices. Doctors often complain that EHR programs overwhelm them with too many tabs, menus, and buttons. Pediatrician Jeff Cooper in Duluth, GA, says that's not the case with his touch-screen system from JMJ Technologies. "The learning curve is very easy," he says.

The fact that touch screens are usually paired with desktop computers is another selling point. Many doctors prefer a stationary machine to a wireless tablet or notebook so they don't have to worry about dropping it, or having a patient slip it inside a bag. Cooper finds that a wired desktop operates a smidgen faster-in switching from one window to another, for example-than its wireless counterpart. "When you're tapping the screen all day, that time difference adds up," he says.

These advantages motivate some doctors to choose a touch screen even though a tablet solution might be slightly cheaper. True, an individual tablet will generally cost more than a touch-screen desktop. Most leading models sell for upwards of $2,000, while a desktop with a 15-inch touch-screen monitor runs only $1,400 to $1,500 (the monitor is about half the expense). However, equipping each exam room and nurse's station with a touch screen setup amounts to more machines than if you buy a tablet for each doctor and perhaps his nurse.

Whatever EHR you buy, find a system as well asa method of data entry that caters to your uniquepreferences.