Pocket pack proves nurses' little helper

  1. Pocket pack proves nurses' little helper
    13 June 2004

    Fed up with vicious dogs, violent offenders, P-labs and reams of paperwork, Northland's district nurses are going hi-tech.

    They're swapping multiple sets of patient notes, a cellphone, camera, diary, maps, drug lists and Work and Income NZ data for small, hand-held pocket PCs, or PDAs (personal digital assistants) as they are known.

    The gadgets not only allow nurses in the field instant access to files kept safely at Whangarei Hospital but they mean nurses can take photographs of patients' wounds and send them back to the hospital for instant diagnosis.

    The hand-helds include global positioning systems that allow the hospital to know precisely where the nurses are at any time.

    And they can notify nurses of any possible personal safety concerns when visiting remote properties.

    It's the fruit of work by Microsoft's New Zealand Innovation Centre, set up 20 months ago to help government agencies better use technology.

    A pilot study was completed in April and, even though approval for the project was given last week, it will take until December for the paperwork to be concluded and the bugs ironed out before each of the region's 50 district nurses are armed with pocket PCs.

    Meanwhile, those who took part in the trial feel bereft without their pocket PC i-Mates, loaned by Vodafone, said nurse Karen Devine.

    She said the software designed with nurses' input by the Northland District Health Board's information technology department and Albany software consultancy FirstBase ensured everything the nurses need is stored on the PC and is available or can be recorded at the touch of a button - no more poor handwriting problems.

    "Potentially we could have instant access to all the clinical records we need, and for those of us working out in the field, that's absolutely massive."

    The normal paper-based system requires everything to be filled in, in triplicate, and sent to Whangarei, which can take up to three days by internal mail.

    The information is then keyed into the computer system by data inputers. Accuracy may not always be achieved - yet this is vital to ensure Health Ministry funding reflects workloads.

    This, coupled with the fact that on average the new system saved the nurses more than seven hours of paperwork time a week, provided the economic impetus to approve the project, said health board information systems manager Jo Wheat-Connelly.

    The hand-helds allow alerts to warn nurses of patients who are potentially violent, of large dogs in the yard, or even the suspected presence of a P (pure methamphetamine) lab in the back garden.

    In the four-week trial, alerts came into their own on five occasions.

    If Microsoft's software is used, the computer company will provide up to $100,000 in cash and kind.

    So far, 12 projects have been undertaken by the innovation centre, including four from health boards.

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