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Dirty QWERTY

keyboard.jpgWhy QWERTY? Why indeed.

This keyboard layout was designed in 1874 by Christopher Scholes. An alphabetical layout caused the machine's levers to jam, so he positioned the most frequently used letters as far apart as possible. To assist salesmen to demonstrate, Scholes craftily arranged all of the letters needed for the word "typewriter" to be in the top row.

I think this is an awful input device. I have been using it for many years and learned to touch type when I was completing a Masters dissertation. Time and again I watch users hunting and pecking their way across the keyboard. Imagine the time wasted in this painful process.

This article on Slashdot refers to a Swedish study that shows that the keyboard is a bacteria farm. It is inhabited by 33000 bacteria per square centimetre, compared to 130 on a toilet seat.

Covering a keyboard makes it easier to clean, important in these times of super bugs like MRSA. But what about ridding ourselves of it altogether? It's time for FHIT to look at other methods of data input.

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Comments

Great comments on the keyboard. I recently posted a note on my own blog KrellMD.blogspot.com about the input device of the future. Others have mentioned a healthcare "whiteboard" for data input and still others like the touchscreen.
I suppose it will always be difficult to go from a pelvic exam to a data input device without some cross-contamination unless everybody remembers to wash their hands. To emphasize that, we place alcohol handcleaning dispensers everywhere there is data input that you have to touch.

Douglas,
I have read your article and will refer to it in a series that I am about to write. Healthcare certainly needs IT that spans the patient clinician encounter; keyboards are more like a barrier to it.

I remember when my previous General Practitioner (GP) first computerised. His attention was divided between me and the keyboard making my 10 minute appointment slot effectively 5.

Improving the patient experience? I don't think so.

I confess in advance to always wanting to contradict things !

1. Scare stories about bacteria don't necessarily translate into harmful events. I've not looked up the figures but the outside world is full of bacteria, and so is the human GI tract. Infection is the result of a bacteria getting into somebody and the normal immune system not coping. Aren't we all being "infected" continually but remain without disease because our immune systems are coping?

2. Isn't QWERTY designed for touch typists? The problem is not that it's no good for fast inputting - it's probably the fastest possible way of getting data in; it's that people don't learn to touch type. Make it compulsory! Just like make doctors write legible prescriptions you don't have to be a forensic graphologist to decipher!

3. Tablet XP is the first full computer (ie not PDA) I've come across that seems to work out the box with handwriting recognition etc. Isn't that the way things will go - can't see anybody bothering to invent another inputting device, it will all be in the software to interpret talking and writing.

Alasdair,

As usual, some insightful commments.

Sure, there are bacteria everywhere but not all are pathogenic.

In a medical environment there must be a greater likelihood of harmful bugs, possibly making the keyboard both a breeding ground and a medium for cross contamination. In addition, a patient's immune system may be weaker or supressed, making them more prone to infection.

Even if the keyboard is covered, will I always remember to wipe it after use?

You make an interesting point about touch typing. I notice that in the main even young people brought up with the pervasive PC do not touch type. Most type quickly with their forefingers.

C.

You forgot to point out the obvious that at least keyboards can be cleaned. How do you clean a paper chart?

Voice recognition software is the future. Dragon has the best product now, but I'm hoping that Microsoft will buy some good voice recognition software and integrate it with windows. Emphasis on the good. They have one now that isn't very good.

John
http://www.crashutah.com/emr

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