Panasonic ToughBook CF-H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant - Panasonic ToughBook CF-H1

By Riyad Emeran



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Considering that the CF-H1 is designed to be used to access confidential data like patient records, Panasonic has equipped it with an impressive array of security options. There's a fingerprint scanner, which is hardly unusual these days, but considering that many healthcare professionals will wear gloves as a matter of course, its usefulness could be limited. Far more useful is the smartcard reader, but unlike most smartcard readers I've seen in mobile computers, this one doesn't require the card to be inserted into a slot - oh no, that's far too old fashioned for the CF-H1. There's actually a wireless smartcard reader in the CF-H1, so you just need to wave your card over the sensor mounted in the base of the device.

But the wireless smartcard reader isn't even the coolest security option on offer, because the CF-H1 also has an RFID scanner built into it. In case you're not familiar with RFID, it's a short range, wireless identification technology - hence Radio Frequency IDentification. The idea is that an RFID reader will scan RFID tags and read the data on them, and decide whether that user is allowed access. There are two types of RFID tags - active and passive. Active tags need a power source, while passive tags have no power and rely on the RFID reader to do all the work. Passive RFID tags can be integrated into ID cards, or even badges, so a doctor or nurse could have the functionality built into their name-tag, and then when they pickup the CF-H1 and press the RFID button, their tag will be read and they will be granted access to the device. Clever!

To the right of the screen you'll find a column of buttons and indicators. The topmost button is for power and directly below this are two battery indicator lights, because like the ToughBook CF-U1, the CF-H1 can house two battery packs. This means that when one battery runs out, the machine will automatically switch to the second battery. Not only does this configuration extend battery life (you'll get six hours continuous running time from both batteries), but it also allows you to hot-swap battery packs, so you never have to shut the CF-H1 down due to a lack of juice. Both batteries are charged when the CF-H1 is connected to the mains, while the optional docking cradle has space to charge two more batteries as well as the machine itself.

The next button down the column is for the integrated 2-megapixel camera - this is mounted at the top left corner (if facing the screen) at the rear of the CF-H1. The camera is equipped with dual LED lights, so shooting in low light is possible. The results from the camera aren't likely to make it into your photo album, but that's not really the point. What you get is an image that's perfectly adequate for its purpose, which will generally be photographic records to go with patient notes.

Next is the RFID button which I've already covered, and below this is a yellow button with a barcode on it. Unsurprisingly the barcode symbol refers to the integrated barcode scanner that's mounted in the base of the CF-H1. This will enable users to scan the medicine that is being prescribed to patients, and have that data instantly added to that patient's notes. You also get two user programmable buttons, a lock button and indicators for hard disk use, and when the RFID scanner is active.

Martin Leventon

January 29, 2009, 6:57 pm

The question is wether at 2K a machine is will the NHS be able to afford to add some into the IT infrastucture they have. Personally if I had a spare 2k id be buying one myself !


January 29, 2009, 8:00 pm

Oops - just realised I'd worked out the VAT at 17.5 per cent instead of 15. Fixed now - sorry about that!

Yes it does remain to be seen whether the NHS will adopt this kind of device, but I'd be happy to know that my taxes were going into the health service rather than certain other areas. Best not to get me started down this road though :)


January 29, 2009, 8:16 pm

I've tried one out & found them too heavy to balance in your hand whilst on a ward, what did you think Riyad? ps What OS does it have & how much RAM on yours?


January 30, 2009, 1:47 am

@MobyVia - Everyone in the office, myself included, found it really comfortable to use with one hand through the strap at the back. Of course how long you’d want to use it like that is debatable, but I’m assuming that you wouldn’t be holding the thing the whole time you’re with a patient.

The version I had was running XP and only had 1GB of memory, but was still surprisingly nippy. I imagine that anyone thinking about rolling these things out would employ a very lean OS build and then run bespoke apps. Ultimately any hardware is only as good as the software that runs on it.

bar simpspinn

January 30, 2009, 5:19 pm

Just how much were you paid for this - ahem, 'article'?


January 30, 2009, 5:34 pm

We're on 10 per cent commission for every CF-H1 sold in the UK :)

No, seriously, just because it's a little uncommon doesn't mean we've been paid to feature it. We just thought it was something a little more different, and thus interesting, than "just another notebook." And TR has a history of featuring TooughBooks which, we concede, most consumers would never buy.

Dave Manchester

January 31, 2009, 2:21 am

This was a real stab from the past for me.

In 1992 I formed a partnership to design and build such a device as this. At first we were going to use the EO-440 and EO-880 (PenPoint OS) but that was killed by AT&T as soon as we finished writing the proposal (for a nursing home).

The target device would be a tablet PC, wireless, lan connected, and have a bar code reader. It would also have had fax and voicemail. We had in mind using it on medicine carts in convalescent and nursing homes.

We actually went to many trade shows looking for equivalent functionality to the discontinued EO pc's. Our final proposal included the Dauphin DTR-1 with MS Windows for Pen extensions, PenOP for signature authentication, with PowerBuilder generated applications on a Novell Network.

Alas, our Client had nowhere near the amount of money to fund the pilot project (and I learned a valuable lesson about doing proposals on spec). On the upside, we learned a lot about the state of the art circa 1992-1996. Also, many of the features we demanded and communicated to vendors started to appear around 1996-99 with the initial iterations of PDA's from Palm and others.

Sigh. It just doesn't pay to be too far ahead of Your time without Angel Investors. It's been 17 years, and here is this fine machine.

Good Job Panasonic!

- David C. Manchester



January 31, 2009, 8:34 pm

@bar simpspinn - And there I was thinking that a fully rugged touch screen device with unique features like integrated RFID and wireless smartcard security might be of interest to some people. I'm glad you pointed out the error in my thinking, what would I do without you. Strangely though, my bank account doesn't seem to have grown since publication - do you think I should contact someone about that?

@Dave Manchester - I've spoken to a few people over the years who had great ideas, but simply couldn't find the backing to implement them. It's a frustrating situation, especially when you have to watch someone else bring something similar to market. That said, I think the only reason that Panasonic has gone down this route is because it has already carved such a strong niche for itself with its ToughBooks, that it can carry that reputation and knowhow across, while also making use of existing manufacturing facilities.

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