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Pluses and Minuses of Using Laptops for EMR

Doctors with EMR systems need to access the medical histories of their patients at the point of care. That means they need a computer in the exam room. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of a laptop as opposed to traditional desktop computers?
The good stuff

One advantage to laptops is that each physician can have one. Nurses can have them too, and staff members. They can take them with them as they move about the office and exam rooms. The receptionists and other staff members with no need to move around can use desktops.

A doctor can take a laptop out of the office and have remote access over the internet.

Windows, Linux, Mac and other major operating systems can run a laptop. They also have built-in ports to deal with peripheral attachments: printers, scanners, cameras, USB flash drives.

A doctor can also store files in the hard drive of a lap top and access them anywhere. No need to be connected to the internet or other network.
The chief argument against laptops is that when they are using batteries, they have to be plugged in periodically to recharge them. Most laptops will give a doctor two to four hours of use on one battery charge. In addition to that, batteries ordinarily decline about 20 percent each year.

Laptops are more expensive. A quality business-class laptop will cost about $1,000 ranging upwards of $3,000 for an advanced models. Then there are the costs for extra batteries, a carrying case, a supplemental monitor and so on. Contracts for support can be expensive because the tightly integrated components are difficult to replace.

It’s not always possible to hire a local techie to fix a laptop. You have to send them to the manufacturer to be fixed.

If you have to replace a laptop on short notice or send it off to be repaired, you have the problem of adjusting to the settings, applications and files on a different computer.

People can steal laptops. Also laptops are frequently left in places where anybody who is curious enough might be able to log on. If you have confidential medical data on the hard drive, it should be encrypted. If a hard drive needs to be replaced over time, deciphering the data can be a problem. It should have a good authentication to block malicious hacking.

It can be a struggle to keep current with software and operations because most laptops are limited on how they can be upgraded. The RAM and hard drive can be upgraded, but new programs appearing on the market usually have more stringent system requirements.

The optical drive, hard drive or fans can spin up at unpredictable times. This can be distracting and make soft sounds more difficult to detect.

The data on a laptop are stored locally on the hard drive. That means you have to back up your files regularly to protect against theft or breakage. The doctor has to connect a cable, key in the back up function, and take the back-up medium somewhere for safe keeping. Some systems do have an automatic backup system that functions wirelessly. But if a machine is compromises, changes in a laptop’s files can lost between backups.

If an administrative server isn’t managing a laptop, the user has to stay current with applications and updates to keep the system current. A desktop can be left on for updating late at night. Updating a laptop during the day can interrupt a doctor’s workflow to make the necessary reboots. Updating a laptop is not always user friendly.
The short of it
The short of it is that there is a price to be paid for the mobility afforded by laptops. Desktops are cheaper and have fewer problems when it comes to upgrading, maintaining, and keeping files backed up and secure. But the freedom and mobility offered by a laptop can be worth it all.