A digital pen and paper system that records handwriting for ‘playback’ into text could be a boon for healthcare workers and cut down on data entry, according to the manufacturers.

HP's 'digital pen'The HP Forms Automation System (HP FAS, right) looks exactly like a pen, but when used on a special preprinted form, can create completed forms in PDF format or text through handwriting recognition software. It has been successfully tested in hospitals in several parts of Europe.

“It’s more easy, convenient and mobile, and is transparent for doctors using the technology,” Bertrand Houyvet, the system’s worldwide product marketing manager at HP told E-Health Insider. “Information is updated into the system and put into the patient file."

“You record the strokes coming from your own writing, and what you get out of it is an XML file. You can use that to build an image and create a PDF, or you can get the data and take information from the handwriting."

The pen works by reading tiny ‘points’ on forms printed out on standard office paper by the software, and taking these points as cues for each of the individual data fields. Rather than scanning the data, the pen remembers each stroke as well as pressure and speed; data for up to 200 forms can be stored in one pen. Software which comes in the HP digital pen & paper suite then deciphers the data, uploaded through the USB port, into a useable format.

Existing known data about a patient, such as ID numbers or names and addresses, can be pre-printed on the forms, which work on standard office paper.

One institution where the hardware has successfully been tested is in the A&E ward in Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG), Geneva University Hospital. Triage staff handled around 150-200 patients per day, with data captured in around 85% of the cases; an especially good result, say HP, because it was impossible to train many staff in the use of the equipment.

Dr Christian Lovis, vice director of medical informatics at HUG, said of the system: “We put everything together to increase the probability of failure of the system and it didn’t fail."

“HP FAS will be of huge interest to many sectors of healthcare,” continued Lovis. “The patients keep the originals of many forms so the hospital has to scan them. That is not very efficient but will be a thing of the past with this system. There are also many places in the hospital where we do not like to have computers, such as surgical rooms, and the digital pen will avoid this problem."

Chief information officer at HUG, Dr Antoine Geissbuhler, said: “The HP digital pen and paper have the potential to really improve the acceptance of computer-based processes in our hospital. The fact that users do not have to learn a lot about how to use this ‘natural technology’ is very promising for us and provided we can intergate it with our existing tools it is going to help us a lot."

The pen is also in use in medical research in France; according to HP, 51 hospitals in Paris are using the system to fill in research forms, the data from which can then be uploaded to a central server so clinical research can be available in real time.

HP’s system is not currently in use in any UK-based hospitals, but the company is planning on introducing and testing the system here. “We have been focusing on mostly Switzerland and France, but we are also targeting the UK," Houyvet said.


HP Forms Automation System