“It was an idea that was years in the making," volunteered Rachel Hill, director of Global Outreach & International Initiatives for the NYU College of Dentistry (NYUCD).
She’s talking about bringing tablets to the NYUCD & Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach Programs. When Hill landed her position four and a half years ago, she noticed that all record keeping was being done on paper and saw that there was room for improvement.
“We were wasting hundreds of hours on data entry when we traveled to outreach locations around the world,” said Hill.
The prestigious school takes third and fourth-year dental students, as well as post-graduate students in various specialty areas to set up temporary dental clinics to provide oral health services and education. It schedules about eight such programs each year and sends around 30 people per group.
As part of her job in the Office of the Vice Dean of International Initiatives & Development, Hill and her team of three coordinate the global outreach programs.
The waste of time and money was obvious—as it is to others who begin tablet programs at their organizations—to the Director.
There were requirements. In the field, one dentist might initially see a patient and render a diagnosis while another might see that same patient to provide treatment at another point in time during another visit. And given the United States HIPAA guidelines to ensure patient privacy, any work and patient intake created on tablets had to be secure.
“We needed to create a closed network so the tablets could share information [and] we didn’t want [data] stored locally,” she explained. “We wanted information to be sent to another tablet that we would use as a makeshift server in the field.”
She first tested the Equus Nobi tablet but the particular model did not offer the speed and memory required. Hill ended up purchasing Samsung's Series 7 slate PC tablets running Windows 7.
The tablet came recommended by Mi-Co, the company that creates the electronic forms the school uses for the outreach programs. “We thought their forms had potential for our needs,” Hill said.
The project started a little more than a year ago. The first pilot program started in Mexico this past June when the school used two tablets (they have a total of six) to help record data during pediatric dental exams.
“Tracking patient outcomes is very important. We try to wrap our arms around a population of children and continue their care for several years,” she said. “It’s important to keep track of progress over time and paper records get lost or the staff ends up spending hours entering the data into spreadsheets when they get back.”
In addition, the tablets have also made traveling easier. “We’re not weighed down,” Hill stated.
The challenges of using tablets to record data are the same that face any office worker—connectivity, electricity and keeping them charged. “We can still do a dental exam and put the results on paper if we have to,” she said. “But then we still enter the results into our tablet system.”
The school is still making tweaks to its protocol “like refining the diagnostic field in the form” she explained.
About one thousand children in Mexico and Ecuador to date have been treated using tablets to create oral health records.
“The dentists love the tablets,” said Hill. “While they’re used to dealing with technology in a private office, unfortunately dentists are still catching up with technology in the field. There are more challenges and it’s less controlled. Tablets are good for that because you do things chair-side. They’re easy to use and portable. You can do the exams right there with just two school chairs.”
NYU College of Dentistry will likely purchase additional tablets if it starts doing more than one of these outreach programs at a time or works at multiple sites simultaneously, she said.