ATLANTA – Following on the heels of a huge victory for President Barack Obama's $819 billion stimulus plan, Panasonic (Osaka, Japan) kicked off the second leg of a tour to showcase its Toughbook H1 mobile clinical assistant (MCA) at the JW Marriot Buckhead here.

Since the stimulus plan passed the Senate intact, it could mean an unprecedented $20 billion to improve health information technology; with $30 billion in net bonuses for providers that adopt and use certified healthcare IT products over the next 10 years – which could lead to more healthcare providers seeking out Panasonic's device.

"We're still to some degree in an infant stage when it comes to mobile point-of-care technology," Brian Swistak, director of sales for Panasonic's Southeast Region, told an audience of a little more than 20.

The device – which has several iterations now – is basically a laptop that has the capability to store patient records, and display a patient's X-rays.

It's called the Toughbook because of rigorous testing, which includes being dropped from a three-foot height and being able to withstand the extreme conditions encountered in helicopters for vibration, humidity, altitude, and thermal shock.

The units also are loaded with the built-in data capture features specified by doctors and caregivers in the Intel design brief, including a bar code scanner, radio frequency identification (RFID) readers and an integrated digital camera.

The device uses FiatLux Imaging's (Redmond, Washington) Visualize application, which potentially broadens the use of 2-D/3-D imaging in surgical planning and patient consultation. The product is of particular benefit to neurosurgeons, cardiologists and orthopedists, as well as other specialists such as surgeons.

Most importantly, the Toughbook has been touted to severely reduce the paperwork that has bogged down efficiency in most healthcare settings.

The unmet clinical need in most healthcare settings is to capture patient data moving at the speed of nurses on a hospital ward, zapping patient wristbands for fast identification, digitally recording vital signs, updating patient charts, tracking prescription information, taking snapshots of wound closures, and wirelessly transferring all this information to streamline workflow by avoiding double entry of data and the errors that routinely occur during the oft-hectic process.

Panasonic built the Toughbook off of research from Intel (Santa Clara, California), which also had a presence at Thursday's meeting.

"Healthcare costs are rising to unsustainable levels," said Dan Rivera, an area director for Intel. "There is a shortage of qualified healthcare professions; global aging and rapid increases in chronic diseases; and there is a strong need for a new way to deliver the quality of care."

There have been strong urgings for Obama's stimulus to be the catalyst to have healthcare systems go toward keeping electronic health records (EHR) and to offer up funding for technology that could streamline efficiency - which could conceivably boost the demand for devices like the Toughbook.

"We're in a growth mode right now and this product is part of that growth," Swistak said. "Some companies have had to lay off people, but we're fortunate enough to be expanding."

In fact healthcare stands as one of Panasonic's largest and fastest-growing business segments, according to Swistak.

But while Panasonic and Intel might have viable products and hospitals and healthcare providers are feeling the exact opposite and face a unique challenge.

In an era of a troubled economy, how are healthcare professionals able to use the limited funding they have to secure these new innovations?

"It's extremely compelling," said an audience member in reference to making a case as to purchase a device for a healthcare institution. "But to a CFO who's looking at the hard cost benefit ... not so much."

The audience member went on to ask if there was any data to support cost savings of having the device, to which representatives from both companies said "Yes."

"In today's economy, every dollar counts and every business decision matters. Panasonic will partner with you to offer the financial flexibility you need to get through these tough economic times," Swistak said.

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