The mouse is a piece of technology that we’ve all got very used to working with over the last couple of decades. They actually go back longer than we might expect — the British Royal Navy first used a version of the mouse in the 1940s. With the personal computing revolution of the 1990s, they entered almost every single American household. Go back ten years, and nobody could have imagined any other way to control where you wanted to go on a computer screen. They have done a fine job and helped introduce the world to convenient personal computing. Then came smartphones and the iPad. I remember how skeptical many people were when Steve Jobs stood up on stage and showed the world these sleek, new devices. Would the concept of a touchscreen really work? The last seven years have certainly given us the answer. Computer mice may well be what we all started with, but we have to ask ourselves if they are really the future. Statistics show that while personal computer sales are in fast decline, smartphones and smart devices like the iPad are rocketing (and now represent the majority of our computing interactions). Technology experts predict that tablets will soon outsell both PCs and laptops for the first time.
Yet despite these definite trends, health care facilities all over the country are still entrenched in PCs and IT systems that utilize the traditional keyboard and mouse. Even more surprising, imminent hospital technology solutions on the horizon are completely dependent on their use.
Mouse-led devices are slower by their very nature. Compared to a touchscreen, it’s very inefficient to be sitting there clicking around using a mouse. Let’s take a typical scenario that plays out in hospitals with our current computerized systems. A nurse stops the doctor in the hallway to tell them that their patient is simply requesting a Tylenol or Motrin. The doctor stops what they are doing to go and find a computer to log into. They use the mouse to activate the screen, click where they want and then use a password to log in. The mouse is then used again to find the desired icon and order entry area. The doctor types the order manually and clicks the “order” button. This whole process can take several minutes! Considering how fast the technology is in other aspects of our lives, this is an incredible waste of a busy professional’s time. In this day and age, ordering any medication, or test for that matter, should be as simple as a few touches of the screen. I’m not aware of any studies that have investigated how the use of a mouse and traditional PC slows health care professionals down, but I’m sure they would make interesting reading (alternatives to the mouse are relatively new, so perhaps we haven’t thought about it enough in health care yet).
In other industries — from restaurant hostesses to house surveyors — people who are “on the go” are rapidly moving away from mouse-led computer interactions. And doctors and nurses are just about the most on-the-go professionals you could ever meet. We shouldn’t be using technology that is designed for desk jobs. Sooner or later, the new hospital IT systems that are being developed will need to be modified as touchscreen technology moves in. It’s in our best interests to make this sooner.
Want another example of how mice are on the way out? Even most laptops now use simple touch pads for navigating around the screen. This may not be as sophisticated as a touchscreen, but it is going down the route of eliminating the mouse. Consumer technology history proves that society always gravitates towards what is smoother, efficient and more convenient. We may have been very happy with the mouse and PC a few years ago, but not anymore as we see more practical options in front of us.
Having touchscreens at the frontline of clinical medicine will not only make the jobs of doctors and nurses much better, but it will also be great for our patients. At a time when doctors are spending nearly half of their days in front of computers, this is one way that we can take technology to our patients. Imagine the day when we can work with a smart device: patient — doctor— smart device in a triangle. At the moment, computers totally take the frontline clinician away from their patient. We should be able to have a traditional face-to-face conversation, and then rapidly use a smart device to do whatever we need. Writing an order should not take any longer than speaking. Hopefully, the same will happen for medical documentation too. This may involve some type of “voice recognized” dictation, not that dissimilar to the way we dictate our notes now. Good technology must enable doctors to do what they should be: spending more time with patients.
My prediction. Whether it’s in 5 years or 10 years, we won’t be using the mouse anymore. It represents an old technology that is no longer fast enough for what we do. Sorry mouse, you’ve been my friend all this time — but you are so yesterday.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of three books, including Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha. He is the founder and director, HealthITImprove, and blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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