Tablets a "double-edged sword": Mater Health Services CIO

Desktop virtualisation of 3500 PCs also underway

While some Australian hospitals have embraced tablet PCs, one major health services provider is holding off deployment until improvements are made in the form factor.

According to Brisbane-based Mater Health Services' CIO, Malcolm Thatcher, weight and battery life issues with tablet PCs, such as the Apple iPad, are a major drawback. The CIO also cites voice recognition as a much needed addition, among others.

“We have trialled some various form factors including tablets and mobile devices such as smartphones," Thatcher told Computerworld Australia.

“The current technology makes tablets exceptionally good for consuming information but not as a creator of information. Manual input via a tablet is cumbersome and until we get to the point of voice recognition it’s not as efficient.”

Thatcher describes tablets as a "double-edged sword" due to the form factor offering disadvantages and positives for the health care sector.

“The fact they offer an `instant on’ feature is useful for practitioners who are time poor," he said. "You don’t have to wait for software to load which is attractive.”

While not totally ruling out the future use of tablet PCs, the health provider is taking a 'wait and see approach', to assess the evolution of tablet design as vendors investment more in the form factor.

"The reality is the tablets have to be light and offer an exceptional battery life," Thatcher said. "The devices also need to support our corporate applications.”

Realising the need for mobility computing in some form, Mater Health Services has also invested in its network infrastructure with 1000 wireless access points installed across the seven hospitals it runs in Queensland .

While Thatcher was of two minds as to the benefit of tablet PCs, other health care providers have quickly moved to adopt devices such as the iPad, with the Victorian government giving hospitals 500 iPads to use in their health services provision last year.

While tablets may not be a priority for Mater Health, the provider has recently started a desktop virtualisation deployment to decrease its fleet of PCs — some 3500 across the seven sites.

“It will take us four years to complete virtualisaiton at a rate of about 850 devices a year," Thatcher said. "Normally we would replace desktops every four years so we’re really targeting the desktop environment."

Despite the PC refresh, laptops will continue to be used and replaced every three years, the CIO said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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