The Mobile Clinical Assistant enables online care management at the bedside.
When Intel (Beaverton, OR; www.intel.com) decided to commission a prototype for the Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), the company knew what elements it wanted to include and what it wanted the device to achieve. Conceived of as a point-of-care computer reference platform for use at the bedside, the MCA would manage the administration of medications. It would track patient progress. It would operate on a Windows-based system to allow efficient training and easy incorporation by hospital technology departments. It would allow nurses to spend more time with patients by increasing the efficiency of recordkeeping and information verification. It would increase safety by reducing human error. It would allow nurses to do their jobs on the move while staying connected. It would include built-in supplemental devices, such as a digital camera and a wireless stethoscope with recording capability. With that in mind, Intel went to Whipsaw Inc. (San Jose; www.whipsawinc.com).
“Basically, Intel handed us a pile of technology and said, ‘Put this together into a holistic package that we can sell,’” says Dan Harden, principal designer and founder of Whipsaw, an industrial design and product development company.
Though Whipsaw is relatively small in scale with 20 employees, and fairly new, having been founded in 1999, the company has already shown off its medical design capability.
Whipsaw previously won a Medical Design Excellence Award (MDEA) for the Optovue retina scanner, an imaging device used by doctors to diagnose conditions and diseases such as glaucoma, macular hole degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.
But the development of the MCA, envisioned as a multifaceted care administration and delivery device to increase safety and efficiency, would present a daunting challenge to any company. Though an assortment of mobile hardware and software products are available to clinicians today, ranging from large computers-on-wheels with automotive-size batteries and bulky carts to more-compact laptops and personal digital assistants, none of these products are intended to be as all-encompassing for nurse work flow as the MCA.
Whipsaw’s prototype for the physical unit is smaller than most laptop computers. It has enough battery life to last through a nurse’s entire shift, a feature lacking in many of the other frontline medical technologies, and the battery can be replaced without turning off the unit. The MCA can be gripped or held from several different angles, allowing a caregiver to perform various physical actions while holding it. The prototype can be easily and repeatedly cleaned by wiping it down with alcohol, and it is drop resistant.
The MCA includes a bar code scanner and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) scanner. Bar coding is a common way for the healthcare industry to identify medications and patients (via wristbands), and MCA’s scanner serves as a safety tool for matching a patient with the proper treatment. Similarly, RFID technology is becoming widely used for clinical identification. Nurses can use RFID scanning to identify patients unobtrusively, as well as to verify themselves as the authorized caregivers. Harden is particularly proud of the digital camera that Intel asked to be incorporated. He describes Whipsaw as dedicated to developing products that are both mechanically functional and that appeal to users on the emotional level. The camera has the practical purpose of enabling clinicians to visually track the healing process, but it also provides patients with emotional relief, says Harden, to be able to see, through comparison, the progress of a wound or bruise injury.
Whipsaw’s work on the MCA extended to product testing. Whipsaw employees joined Intel employees in assessing the performance of the prototype in test studies. Whipsaw employees even posed as hospital patients during the testing period to get a better idea of how easily the unit could be integrated by practitioners in real-world healthcare settings.
Medical device development will continue to be a significant part of Whipsaw’s business, says Harden. The first product based on Intel’s MCA platform, the C5, manufactured by Motion Computing (Austin, TX; www.motioncomputing.com), is now ready for use.