Written by: Kendra Chaikind

Tablets are everywhere.

We’re using them for electronic health record access, patient surveys, appointment registration, and waiting room education. Viewing medical imaging, collecting social determinants data, and capturing patient stories has never been easier than with these handheld devices. They’re shortening the time between what we learn and what we do about it, especially in areas like patient satisfaction.

A recent survey from HIMSS Analytics found that 80 percent of respondents said they use tablets to coordinate and provide patient care. While many organizations still rely on desktop computers, tablet usage has leapt ahead of smartphones in part because the large screen allows for more face-to-face interaction with patients and the tablet’s size makes it easier to maintain.

Building on our recent webinar on the subject, here are eight tips for successfully implementing tablets in partnership with patients in the health care safety net:

1. Tablets aren’t self-explanatory.

Patients need coaching. You can’t just hand them a tablet and expect them figure it out.

For instance, when you’re conducting a survey, it’s important to explain the importance of collecting this data. What’s in it for patients? How will their participation improve care and their experience? If you’re asking for demographic information, such as a new address or cell phone number, be sure to explain who can see this information and how it will be used.

2. Location, location, location.

Where you place tablets actually affects their usage.

It took Silver Avenue Family Health Center, three attempts to find the best workflow for its tablet-based CG-CAHPS survey. Since it’s formatted as an after-visit survey, Silver Avenue started testing an iPad kiosk in the exit hallway; but patients were reluctant to stop for 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire, even when a patient advisor invited their feedback. When Silver Avenue moved the iPad kiosk to the waiting room, patients felt “awkward” and “on display.” Finally, Silver Avenue placed iPads in exam rooms to make patients feel more comfortable filling out the survey while not having to spend additional time in the health center.

3. Speak patients’ language.

Offering English only programming doesn’t cut it. And adding a Spanish option isn’t much better. When launching a tablet-based solution, you must be multilingual.

4. 😀 or ☹️ ?

Literacy matters. We’ve found that communicating at a fourth-grade level allows patients to take surveys and follow tablet instructions without a full-time staffer walking them through the process.

Even better is deploying icons. We’ve discovered that patients are more responsive to smiling and frowning faces, compared to phrases such as, “I like it…” and “I don’t like it…”

One patient advisor at Castro Mission Health Center told us, “It’s simple and I love the faces – it’s amusing, it gets my attention with the symbols.”

5. Understand your workflow first.

Don’t try to force a tablet into your workflow. One Technology Hub participant learned this the hard way. The health center wanted to use tablets to capture two sets of data:

  • Administrative: patient name, address, social security, insurance, etc.
  • Presenting Problem: symptoms, condition, diagnosis, etc.

But it soon ran into a huge obstacle: The administrative data was collected during registration, while the presenting problem data was collected in the exam room with the provider. Because of this time gap, the software had a hard time reconciling each patient’s two tablet sessions. The clinic struggled to stitch these two data sets back together, attempting to restructure its workflow to get all this data inputted in one sitting. Yet ultimately, after learning a lot about tablet implementation and software design, it was an insurmountable challenge.

You need to adopt software that fits into your workflow, rather than change your workflow to fit the software.

 6. Infection control!

Shared tablets put patients at risk for cross-contamination. Since you can’t just throw the tablet in the autoclave, invest in plastic sleeves to cover the device or plastic films to protect the screen.

Wipe down the front and back of the device with topical cleaners or disinfectant wipes, which can help reduce microbial colonization. Also, a rubber-tipped stylus or pencil eraser can be used to operate touch screens.

7. Keep an eye on that tablet.

Patients misplace tablets. Sometimes staffers accidentally take them home. Protecting these devices is key to ensuring the long-term viability and sustainability of any tablet project. Here are some ideas:

  • Register each device’s serial number with the local police department.
  • Activate the “find my iPad” function or install Tile, a Bluetooth tracker and app.
  • Create a sign-in/out log to track which staffer and patient are currently using the device.
  • Emblazon the health center’s name on both the device and device cover.
  • Create a central docking station, where all devices can charge and download software updates overnight.
8. Win staff buy-in.

We’ve heard this over and over again: “I’ve done it this way for years. Why do I need to change?”

Any tablet implementation requires a huge investment of staff time. West County Health Centers reported that it was no small undertaking to reorient its waiting room around a “concierge,” a staffer charged with checking in patients on a tablet.

In fact, every tip on this list requires multiple training and education sessions to formulate roles, responsibilities, and competencies. Health center teams will need to develop procedures for device security, cleaning, storage, and charging. And new workflows take practice.

So before you even introduce a tablet into a health center, there needs to be a clear understanding of how it fits into your day-to-day operations and why this new measurement is mission critical. Define and clearly communicate the value and advantages of launching your tablet-based solution.



Find this useful or interesting? We’re constantly sharing stuff like this. Sign up to receive our newsletter to stay in the loop.