UPMC to deploy 2,000 Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets across its health system

By Brian Dolan

UPMC Surface Pro 3 ConvergenceThe University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has committed to deploy at least 2,000 Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets throughout its healthcare system. The system's clinicians will use the tablets as laptop replacements. The devices will be equipped with the healthcare facility's Convergence app, which sits atop its Cerner and Epic deployments and and also knits together many of its legacy hospital IT systems.

"In the case of a clinical or healthcare professional, they are moving around room to room, and most users will tell you that they want a tablet but need a laptop," Cyril Belikoff, Senior Director of Surface at Microsoft told MobiHealthNews. "What they essentially need is something that is instant-on, light, and that has a long battery life. They also want something that is very functional and productive and gets them access to their traditional applications to be productive on-the-go."

Dr. Rasu Shrestha, Vice President of Medical Information Technology at UPMC and a practicing radiologist, told MobiHealthNews that the combination of Surface Pro 3 tablets and his healthcare organization's Convergence software will give clinicians more time to focus on the patient and less time "playing detective" and hunting for information in disparate systems. 

"If you look at the penetration of the mobile form factor in healthcare, it is primarily being led by the iPad and the Android devices, just like in other industries," Shrestha said. "Most of the tablets that physicians were using at home, they brought into the healthcare environment and said 'I want this to work here now, too'. So when we originally built Convergence, we built it first and foremost for the iPad. But we found out fairly quickly as we were building it, that our physicians loved the visualizations we built on the iPad, but they absolutely hated the workflow. It didn't work and it didn't flow."

Shrestha said that during patient visits, while reviewing patient data from an iPad, clinicians would have to put the tablet down, walk over to the clinical desktop and log into the EMR system to make changes. That process also required clinicians to sign into the EMR once at the desktop and then find the patient in the system all while the patient was sitting there. Shrestha also said that later the clinician would also have to manually enter data captured on the iPad into the clinical desktop, which would up the chances of errors.

"What Surface does -- with the magic of Convergence -- is it allows for clinicians like me to use the Surface form factor on my desk for charting. Then, I can undock it from my desk as I do my rounds on the Surface device -- because it is now in a really nice tablet form factor. Then, when I need to stop that medication and, you know, save the life of that patient, instead of putting that tablet down, now all I have to do is swipe and I'm in that legacy electronic medical record system running on Win 32 OS, which is also on the Surface device. So, Convergence ties the past, present and future."

Shrestha described the ease with which a clinician could swipe between health IT systems as only requiring a "swipe" of the screen. Since UPMC uses both Epic EHR and the Cerner EHR in its system, he said clinicians could use Convergence to swipe into one of those systems and then swipe into another before returning to Convergence to carry on with their rounds "in a very elegant manner".

Currently, UPMC has been running a a pilot at its largest hospital, UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, in the cardiology department. That pilot will expand to one that stretches across UPMC and will eventually leverage the 2,000 Surface Pro 3 tablets that UPMC has ordered from Microsoft. The health system is also "working synergistically" with Microsoft to develop Convergence and plans to productize that platform so other healthcare systems could use it.

Shrestha focused on the way UPMC clinicians use laptops, desktops, and tablets but some components of Convergence will be made available for smartphone platforms too, he said.

"There absolutely is a place for smartphones, how could there not be? ... What we are focused on is really workflow -- how do we support and improve productivity? How do we have a meaningful interaction with that patient?" Shrestha asked. "...We are essentially Switzerland when it comes to smartphones. Smartphones are best used as critical test result management communication or communication and collaboration when the clinician isn't rounding. We don't want the clinicians to be picking up the phone when in front of the patient. There will be components of Convergence that are made available for the smartphone, so we're not negating that space, but for core productivity and the majority of the use cases that we need in healthcare and where we directly impact patient care, that needs to be where the action is."

Shrestha believes that the combination of Microsoft's new tablet and the Convergence software that the two companies developed together brings a form factor to healthcare that is the closest we've seen to an all-in-one device.

"Today, clinicians have this decision we need to make: Do we carry the laptop, do we use the clinical desktop or do we use the tablet? What we are saying is with Convergence and Surface Pro 3 ... the focus doesn't become the decision point of which system am I going to interact with? It's not which broken workflow [should I choose today]? Instead, the focus is on the patient's story and what we need to do to enhance the care we are giving to that patient."