Handheld PC 2000: Device Fills a Computing Gap for Many Mobile Workers

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 7, 2000 — At each stop in a busy day, visiting nurses and doctors care for seriously ill patients whose home-based care allows them to remain outside the hospital. But at the end of that day, these health-care providers and their bosses face a pile of paperwork back at the office: the patients’ updated charts; checklists to assure that each patient’s unique needs are being met; billing forms; and tracking data needed to keep the home-care agency’s certification.

“These health-care providers are literally documenting thousands of items of data over the course of the day,”
said Mark Braunstein, MD, chairman and CEO of Patient Care Technologies Inc. (PtCT). And if those data aren’t up-to-date and accessible, there are more than bureaucratic reasons for concern — because a doctor whose patient has a nighttime crisis won’t have all the information needed to provide the best possible treatment.

That’s why PtCT developed a Windows CE-based system of entering and updating patient data for home care agencies — and why Braunstein is looking forward to the introduction of Microsoft’s Handheld PC 2000 this month.

PtCT’s current data-monitoring system consists of Handheld PCs based on Windows CE, devices small enough that they don’t create a psychological wall between patient and care provider. Using pen-and-touch screen technology, doctors and nurses can quickly document every patient encounter as it occurs.

At the office later, they upload the information to the agency’s central files, keeping the myriad forms updated daily. The system already accounts for half of all computerized data-tracking systems used by U.S. home-care agencies, Braunstein said.

So, when he looks at the fourth generation of H/PCs, announced Sept. 7, Braunstein is looking for even greater functionality for the nurses and doctors using PtCT’s system. Handheld PC 2000, based on Windows CE 3.0, the latest version of the Microsoft real-time embedded operating system for small footprint and mobile devices, provides those improvements by including:

  • A package of features that will make it possible for home health-care providers to update patient charts easily while on — the go. These include wireless data transmission with a cell phone and a Socket digital phone card; and automatic synchronization of device and office files via ActiveSync software.

  • An Internet Explorer 4.0-compatible browser for dial-up access to ISPs and corporate networks, allowing care providers to check details such as drug interactions or public health alerts via the Internet.

  • Alternatively, storage of such memory-gobbling information within the H/PC itself, using an available CompactFlash card that will hold up to 1 gigabyte of data.

  • Location of all essential software for the H/PC 2000 on a silicon chip inside the device. This allows the H/PC to be switched on and off instantly, and it also speeds up basic functions.

  • Battery life of up to 15 hours (half that if wireless remote connections are used), making it possible for nurses and doctors to go all day without worrying about a battery recharge.

  • A keyboard that is large enough to use for email and for Pocket versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

  • Thin client technology, to let users work on files stored on desktop PCs back at the office by using the server’s computing power — allowing the Handheld PC to operate faster.

Braunstein said his firm will explore how to use the new H/PC 2000 capabilities to improve its home-care data systems. Of particular interest, he said, will be the ability for doctors and nurses to transfer data throughout the day while maintaining adequate battery life.

“Six to eight hours of battery life while still using a wireless modem is good,”
he said.

In addition, there is a new federal law requiring health-care providers to ensure the privacy of medical information transmitted electronically, so the H/PC 2000 chip’s inclusion of CryptoAPI also is attractive, Braunstein said. CryptoAPI will allow users to install their chosen encryption technology on the devices.

Braunstein said such features show Microsoft’s commitment to making Windows CE the operating system of choice for a wide range of mobile devices for specialty business use, known as

Doug Dedo, group product manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Devices Division, said perceptions — not reality — have governed attitudes toward the success of Handheld PCs. This is largely because these devices have been and will continue to be under the public radar, he added.

“There are an awful lot of erroneous perceptions around all of this,”
Dedo said.

But the key reason why people have these perceptions is because the Handheld PC is not a consumer product, so people don’t see it out on the streets being used.

“It’s a professional product, for people providing in-home health care, or going out and fixing air conditioning units,”
he added.
“So when you don’t see them on every corner or being pulled out in every meeting, people think they aren’t successful.”

Already, 80 percent of the applications in which Handheld PCs are used involve replacement of paper-based business processes, Dedo said. The other 20 percent are used where people need a mobile computing device without a laptop’s bulkiness or the limitations of a Pocket PC’s smaller screen.

Inspectors on factory floors are typical of the Handheld PC user at whom Microsoft and its hardware partners will be aiming H/PC 2000 devices, Dedo said. They need a rugged, mobile device for electronic data collection — usually to replace paper forms — but don’t need the full functionality of a laptop.

H/PC 2000 units will allow an inspector to catalog problems and transmit the information via a wired or wireless LAN immediately, he said. Because there are so many desktop-like features on the H/PC 2000, though, the inspector won’t be limited to just filling out a trouble-report form.

“He’ll be able to write up a problem on the necessary form, take a picture of it, attach it to the problem report, attach it all to email and insert it into a database so action can be tracked,”
Dedo said.

The new Handheld PC 2000 will be the core of a nationwide grocery-store restocking system being developed by MarketOrder, which previously used DOS devices with more limited capabilities.

Users of the new system will be able to use barcodes to scan items on which a store is running low, and order them for same-day delivery over the Internet without leaving the store aisle. Being demonstrated at three trade shows this month, MarketOrder’s device also will be equipped with bSquare’s bInTouch software. This, in effect, turns the unit into a walkie-talkie for instantly communication with co-workers or the office.

“Retailers are very excited about this, partly because it’s free to them and partly because it should be very easy for their employees to pick up and start using right away,”
said Stephen Bemis, vice president of worldwide sales for MarketOrder.

“It empowers the employees at the point of decision and packs into a Handheld PC all the knowledge they need to make correct decisions on the spot,”
Bemis said.
“It parlays the thought process all the way down the management structure to the person on the store floor, and the more you can do that, the better a business will operate.”

This is the kind of functionality that certain mobile computer users need, Dedo said.

“You’re not replacing a laptop — you’re filling a gap,”
he said.

There’s no one ü
ber alles
device. We believe there’s a place for everything from a smart phone through Pocket PCs through Handheld PCs and right up to the laptop and desktop PC.”

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