Wyoming Department of Health Chooses Tablet PCs

Chris Mc Loone

For many years, public safety agencies have used mobile computers for a variety of purposes. Until recently, these computers have been notebook-type computers, although some had screens users could turn around so the notebooks acted like tablets. Different agencies use these devices for different reasons. In the fire service, they can be used to communicate with dispatch centers, access information on open events, mapping, GPS, and to view preplan information for various structures.

Since the introduction of the iPad, tablets have come to the forefront of consumer electronics but are also becoming more pervasive on the public safety side. Emergency medical service providers, in particular, have begun demanding the tablet form factor.

Xplore Technologies has been at the forefront of rugged tablet production since 1996 and recently delivered an order of its All-Vue iX104CS tablets to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The Tablet Experience

Xplore develops rugged tablet computers powered by Intel’s Core i7 processors and that offer fast and durable disk access technology. The Xplore ultra-rugged tablets can be dropped from four feet to concrete while operating. They can be used in driving rain; in blowing sand and dust; and under constant vibration, shock, and temperature extremes. The displays have been optically engineered to be viewable in sunlight. Additionally, users can input data either with a gloved touch or active pen input, and Xplore boasts the only field-serviceable tablet available today so that workers in rugged mobile environments don’t lose time sending a computer back for service-they can get right to RAM, SSD, SIM cards, and WAN right on the spot. “Our C5 is a field-repairable, field-upgradable rugged tablet PC. It offers toolless access to remove the hard drive and toolless access to the SIM,” says Mark Holleran, president of Xplore Technologies. “We continue to look at new screen technology to improve on our already really great outdoor visibility and bring multitouch features.”

(1) Xplore's tablets can be dropped from four feet to concrete while operating and keep operating. They can be used in driving rain; in blowing sand and dust; and under constant vibration, shock, and temperature extremes. Users can input data either with a gloved touch or active pen input. Units are also field-serviceable.
(1) Xplore’s tablets can be dropped from four feet to concrete while operating and keep operating. They can be used in driving rain; in blowing sand and dust; and under constant vibration, shock, and temperature extremes. Users can input data either with a gloved touch or active pen input. Units are also field-serviceable. (Photos courtesy of Xplore Technologies.)

Although Xplore has always been in the tablet business, tablets enjoyed popularity only in very focused areas until recently. “You traditionally had two choices in the enterprise,” says Holleran. “People thought about buying a desktop or a notebook. A tablet was a niche. Today, the happening device is a tablet. You now have the major application providers incorporating touch- and pen-based functionality into their apps because this really is a third platform.”

Holleran cites the mobility of tablets as a major factor in their acceptance by the public safety sector. “A tablet is a platform that is truly mobile. People are mobile and tactical. A notebook is not as tactical,” he claims. “[A tablet] is much more mobile in that it allows you to mount it in smaller, tighter vehicles. It doesn’t have to open up. I think you’re going to see more and more of this coming into the whole public safety arena.”

The Wyoming Order

According to Jay Ostby, financial statistical specialist, Wyoming Department of Health, Public Health Division, Office of Emergency Medical Services, the Office of EMS decided to purchase tablets to be issued to EMS agencies throughout the state. The goal is to have one tablet in each ambulance to help EMS providers complete a patient care report, enhancing the continuity of care to the patient. Presently, just more than 50 percent of the ambulances in Wyoming have a tablet in them.

The Office of EMS, in partnership with five EMS agencies, tested earlier versions of Xplore’s iX104 series to evaluate their capabilities and determine if they were appropriate for use with patient care records to move away from using strictly paper. It ultimately decided to acquire All-Vue iX104C4 and iX104C5 tablets because they offered the best solutions. Xplore tablet computers offer durability, the ability to be cleaned with a disinfectant, a complete solution for mounting and docking, and functionalality for EMS personnel in the ambulance that does not damage easily and features a low failure rate.

(2) Workers in mobile environments don't lose time sending Xplore tablets back for service. They can get right to RAM, SSD (hard drive), SIM cards, and WAN on the spot.
(2) Workers in mobile environments don’t lose time sending Xplore tablets back for service. They can get right to RAM, SSD (hard drive), SIM cards, and WAN on the spot.

Key features for the Office of EMS were durability and their ability to be cleaned. “Because the computers are used in situations where bodily fluids are present-and could contaminate the tablets-we really wanted to be sure the computers could be cleaned to eliminate cross contamination for the safety of the patient and caregiver,” says Ostby. To that end, if the computer should get dirty, all attendants need to do is submerge the entire unit into a bleach solution.

Positive Reception

Wyoming EMS providers use the tablets primarily to input patient information such as pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiration. For the most part, according to Ostby, the tablets have been well received by the end users. “I would have thought 60 percent [would like the tablets], and we’re getting about 90 percent or better that people like the tablets.” Ostby says when issues have come up, the Office of EMS addressed them. For example, there are some who want keyboards, so the Office of EMS bought dishwasher-safe antimicrobial keyboards that can be used with the C5 tablets.

Advice to Buyers

Ostby admits that he’s not a “one-computer-fits-all” type of person. But, he considers tablets to be great field-use items. He cautions buyers, however, to make sure they fit the computer to the end users. “If your mission is 911 transports, you’re in a very dynamic environment,” he says. “Things can change quickly-from going well to being up to your ankles in blood and body fluids in the ambulance. If you’re in that category, you need a high-quality tablet. It may not be what you desire, but I believe it is what you need.” He advises buyers to check the failure rate of the units they plan to buy. “What is the percentage of damage on the units?” he asks. “When you buy over 100 units and put them into an environment where they will get beaten up, there needs to be a low percentage of failure with the units, and so far we have had no complete failures.”

He continues, “Any time you have electronics with a screen, you might break the screen. I think we’ve only broken five screens in the back of an ambulance during the past 21/2-year period. Even with the broken screen, we still could get data off the computer; that’s impressive.”

IT Infrastructure

Ostby says that the department has issued tablets to ambulance departments with full IT departments to virtually no IT support. He says that it comes down to services having commercial-grade antivirus software installed. “Most of the support that we’ve seen on the tablets has been from when a user wants to do something outside of what they are intended to be used for,” he says. “It really comes down to IT in larger departments making sure the antivirus is set up along with ongoing operating system security patches so the units are protected.”

Learning Curve

Ostby states that everyone learns at a different level-and going from pen and paper to tablet PCs at incidents is no different. Keeping that in mind, he suggests having enough tablets for everyone when training on them. “When we introduced the tablets and had training sessions, we realized it would have been better to have enough tablets for each person in the training class so that each could train at the same time,” he says. “Here’s where a lesser-priced tablet might work-for training on the lesser-priced unit and then spend the money on the higher-priced tablet for in-field use.”

CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.

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