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Providing Pocket Access, Mobile Database, Windows CE Database, and Windows CE Development Solutions

Pocket PC Applications Help Hospitals Enforce Strict Cleanliness Standards

By Frank Yacano, Director of Business Development, SYWARE, Inc.

A Pocket PC application helps cleaning supervisors check activities in hospitals and other large facilities
A Pocket PC application helps cleaning supervisors check activities in hospitals and other large facilities.

A Pocket PC application called CheckMate is helping cleaning supervisors and maintenance staff check the quality of cleaning activities in hospitals and other large facilities. Available from UK-based Business Performance PLC (, CheckMate allows an objective assessment of cleanliness standards and is being used in over one hundred locations.

The CheckMate application provides a systematic approach to cleaning inspection for hospitals and other facilities with strict cleanliness requirements. The program runs on Pocket PC devices and was created using Visual CE®, an easy to use database development tool from SYWARE ( Cleaning inspectors simply tap the screen of the handheld to record details about the room they are examining. Drop-down menus allow users to quickly specify inspection criteria and failure codes. When inspectors return to the office, they place the Pocket PC in its cradle to synchronize with a central database that manages cleaning information for the entire facility. After about ten seconds, the synchronization process is complete, and the inspection data becomes part of the database where it is immediately available for reporting.

The handheld solution has proven to be a much more efficient inspection tool than earlier, paper-based versions of the CheckMate system. Time consuming manual work is eliminated, from copying hundreds of forms per week to physically carrying around the sheets, and the duplication of effort required to input data from paper into the computer.

It has also been well received by users, despite a broad lack of computing experience. "There's no reason why these people have to be techno-nerds," says Geoff Jones, Managing Director, Business Performance PLC. "They're typically down-to-earth ladies and gentlemen who have been in the cleaning business for a long time. While they're often nervous at first, by the end of the training they actually enjoy using the Pocket PC and the rest of the system."

Comprehensive Inspection Record
The cleanliness inspection process starts when the quality inspector selects the room being inspected from a drop down list. The screen then displays complete details about the room from the CheckMate database including dimensions, location, cleaning frequency, and a code specifying the room type (Figure 1).

CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Room Specifications

Figure 1. CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Room Specifications

Each room code has specific cleaning requirements. For example, an operating room would have a different set of parameters than an office or a general ward. The screen displays a list of items to be inspected that are relevant to the room category. A patient's room would have entries such as Washbasins, Furniture, Floor, and perhaps a dozen other inspection items - each with a value rating from 0 to 9. The inspector enters the result for each item simply by tapping the appropriate choice on the screen: P for pass, N for not applicable, and F for fail (Figure 2).

CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Inspection Details

Figure 2 - CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Inspection Details

A failure rating opens a list of Failure Codes corresponding to the item being inspected (Figure 3). (For example, a washbasin may have failure codes such as "NS" = No Soap, "DS = Dusty, "SM" = Smears, etc.) The user taps the appropriate code to specify the reason for the failure.

CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Typical Failure Codes

Figure 3 - CheckMate Pocket PC Application: Typical Failure Codes

Notes and comments can be entered at any time - typed, hand written, or using the digital voice recorder built into the Casio unit. After inspections are complete, data is transferred to the desktop PC in a few seconds for immediate reporting on quality levels, trend analysis, and failure details. The system automatically logs the date and time of the inspection and calculates the quality score of the room from the values of the failed items.

The CheckMate program is easily customizable by the customer to match the requirements of individual facilities and inspection staff. Virtually all parameters can be defined, including room categories, tasks to be inspected - and the relative values of each, and failure codes related to the inspection. Parameters can be readily added or changed as needed on the desktop system and then synced to the Pocket PCs.

Intuitive Application Development
In searching for a development platform, Business Performance's objective was a tool that would allow them to create a handheld version of the application without a massive programming effort. "We're focused on solving problems, not creating superfluous bells and whistles," Jones explains. "We get many compliments from our customers, and the best is that our systems work in the same logical way that they do."

Business Performance used Visual CE to develop the Pocket PC version of the CheckMate program, a task that required only about two weeks including testing and fine-tuning. Visual CE provides a drag-and-drop interface that allows users to build highly useful and visually attractive programs combining electronic forms with underlying databases.

"Visual CE is a well engineered, robust system that is easy for new programmers to use," says Jones "It's extremely intuitive, both from a development standpoint and also for users of the finished product."

Visual CE forms are created on a desktop system and then uploaded to the Pocket PCs. The desktop also contains the master database of room specifications and cleaning requirements - potentially thousands of details. This database can be updated as needed, and the changes uploaded to the Pocket PCs during synchronization.

The electronic form also provides a more efficient and elegant input process than the old paper forms. For example, rather than a space on the form where people would write the reason for a failure, the Visual CE application provides a drop-down list of failure codes. When records are synced to the desktop, the system interprets the code and inserts a full description of the failure into the report.

Search for an Electronic Solution
The original CheckMate system was developed over a decade ago. The first system was DOS-based and used paper forms for collecting data. As the system evolved through various versions of Windows, Business Performance looked for ways to capture field data electronically in order to avoid the need to re-enter data back at the office.

Laptop PCs proved to be too heavy and awkward for inspectors to use while walking around. Jones evaluated Palm devices, but he found that they lacked the processing power and memory necessary to run his application. The emergence of the Pocket PC provided the computing power capable of managing and accessing thousands of room details and cleaning parameters.

The CheckMate software comes bundled with a late model Pocket PC - normally a Casio E125 - plus on-site installation and training. Although small enough to fit into a pocket, the Casio E125's clear color screen enables data to be easily viewed and entered - essential because inspections often take place in locations where lighting is marginal. The unit can also be equipped with a small digital camera to take a picture of defects or shortcomings to back up the findings. Images are automatically transferred back to the desktop together with inspection data, and can be immediately inserted into any report.

Jones sees a huge untapped market for the CheckMate inspection program. Potential customers include hospitals, hotels, universities and office parks, as well as the contract cleaning companies that support them. Many facilities have developed their own paper-based processes for measuring cleaning standards, and CheckMate provides the flexibility to readily adapt these existing systems onto a much more convenient handheld PC.

"The killer argument for hospitals is that this saves all the labor after the inspection," Jones adds. "The units usually pay for themselves within two months. The approach also eliminates transposition errors that occur when trying to interpret scribbled handwriting."

CheckMate is available as a standalone quality control and inspection tool, or as part of a bundled system called Spectrum that also includes Pocket SpecTackle (as in "Spec" + "Tackle") - an application for capturing room specifications at a hospital or other large facility. Also created using Visual CE, SpecTackle allows users to quickly capture information such as room type, area, floor covering and installed equipment. Information captured by SpecTackle in the field is uploaded to the desktop system, which maintains a complete database of all room details. This information is then used to define cleaning requirements for each room, calculate the cost to clean the entire facility, and allow the random selection of room for the CheckMate application.

Eyeing New Markets
Although designed initially as a quality control tool for cleaning buildings, CheckMate provides a horizontal solution that can work in any industry where field inspection is required. Jones is now exploring a wide variety of new markets, from vehicle inspection to farming, each with its own sets of inspection criteria and standards. Using Visual CE's intuitive development environment, powerful Pocket PC applications can be created and modified with ease.

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