$$ - Consultation Room Printers

Introduction

While secure paperless correspondence is slowly starting to become a reality, doctors are unlikely to be able to cease printing documents in their consultation room any time soon. Bowing to this unfortunate reality, this article seeks to provide guidance to practices looking to install new printers in their consultation rooms.

While some of the material presented in this article will apply equally to reception and administration settings, most practices would be better served by deploying larger, more robust printers in these areas, the likes of which will be discussed in future articles.

Key Characteristics

When looking to purchase a printer for a consultation room, there are several key characteristics to look for:

Trays, Trays & More Trays

The most tangible way to reduce the time clinicians spend printing documents in their consultation room is to minimise the need for them to have to physically handle different types of paper for scripts, pathology and radiology requests, and other document types.

There are three basic approaches that can be used to achieve this:

  1. Reduce the number of paper types used by the clinician.
  2. Install multiple printers, each loaded with a different paper type.
  3. Install a printer with multiple paper trays.

Given that Option 1 will depend heavily on the pathology and radiology facilities the doctor refers patients to, and Option 2 doesn’t scale well and is likely to be undesirable for ergonomic reasons, the deployment of a single printer with multiple paper trays will usually be the most viable method of reducing the time spent manually inserting the requisite paper into the printer. A printer with three paper trays could, for example, allow scripts, pathology request forms and plain A4 paper to be permanently stored in the printer and intelligently selected by the clinical software when required.

Time To First Page

While the top speed of both laser and ink jet printers continues to improve steadily, the fact that many printers suitable for consulting rooms can print 20 to 30 pages per minute is largely irrelevant.

Rarely do doctors need to print large, multi-page documents. Instead, the vast majority of jobs sent to a consultation room printer are one or two pages in length, e.g. a referral letter, specialist report, script, or a pathology or radiology request.

Because of this usage pattern, purchasers should look for printers with a fast “time to first page”. The reader should note however, that as with most performance guidance quoted by manufacturers, these times are clocked under ideal circumstances and tend to be slightly optimistic.

Total Cost Of Ownership

While the purchase price of a printer is easy to measure, determining the ongoing cost of running the device requires slightly more effort.

Armed with an approximation of the number of pages the printer will output each year, would-be purchasers should be mindful of the cost of toner per page, and also the cost of replacing the printer’s drum unit. Warranties, the location of service centres, and whether scheduled maintenance needs to be performed should also be considered.

Bonus Characteristics

While certainly not as important as a fast print speed or multiple paper trays, the following features are worth pursuing if they won’t dramatically increase the purchase price of the printer:

Networking

Having a network interface in a consultation room printer would usually not be a critical requirement, as in most cases, the printer will be sent jobs from a computer via a USB cable. However, having a network interface, or the option to add one at a later date, increases the utility of the printer.

Duplexing

The capacity to print on both sides of the page should not been seen as a critical requirement for a consultation room. However, duplexing functionality is now a fairly common inclusion for printers priced in the $300 - $500 range and may be attainable without extra expense.

MacOS X & Linux Support

While it is likely that your practice currently runs a flavour of Microsoft Windows, the increasing popularity of the MacOS X and Linux alternatives is worth considering when buying printers and other hardware. Within the useful life of your new printer, the IT landscape promises to be markedly different to the present day. As such, opting for a printer that is compatible with MacOS X and Linux will ensure that a change in operating system won’t require you to replace your still-functioning printer.

The Contenders

When searching for printers that meet the key characteristics outlined earlier, it will become apparent that there are only a few laser printers on the market that both fulfill the key requirements, and are affordably priced. While it wasn’t feasible to consider all of the potential candidates in this article, three printers were obtained and tested, namely the Kyocera FS-1030D, the Brother HL-5240, and the Canon LBP-3300 .

Kyocera FS-1030D

The Kyocera FS-1030D is the fourth revision in Kyocera ’s popular 1000 series. The printer ships with a 250 page paper cassette, and a 50 page multipurpose tray. A second cassette can be added, allowing three different types of paper to be available to the clinical software without manual intervention. It is worth noting that Kyocera has used the same optional paper tray since the Kyocera FS-1000 (the great, great grandfather of the FS-1030D). While there is no guarantee that future Kyocera printers in this series will continue to use the same paper tray design, it does mean that there will be a large pool of second hand paper trays and printers available to users, should they experience an equipment failure outside of the two year warranty period.

As the “D” in the name implies, the FS-1030D has built-in duplex functionality, allowing the user to print on both sides of the page without having to manually flip paper over. The printer features an expansion slot that allows a network card to be added, allowing customers to purchase the printer with a network card pre-installed, or purchase and install one themselves at a later date. The printer uses a drum rated for 100,000 pages, which, when factoring in all running costs, gives it the lowest total cost of ownership of all the printers referenced in this article.

One downside with the FS-1030D is the fact that when paper is inserted in the multipurpose tray, all print jobs are printed to this tray, regardless of the tray the clinical software tells the printer to draw paper from. This issue can be addressed using a one-time configuration procedure, however the ability to switch from “bypass” to “cassette” functionality using the driver software would be a welcome improvement.

Brother HL-5240 / Brother HL-5250DN

For the purpose of this article, the author was provided with a Brother HL-5240 laser printer. Brother also retails the more expensive Brother HL-5240, which adds a duplexing unit, more RAM, and a network interface to the feature set of its sibling. The printing mechanism and all other features are identical across both devices.

Building two, non-upgradeable printers serves to lower production costs slightly, however this approach means that customers will need to decide at the time of purchase whether they will require networking and duplexing capabilities, both at the time of purchase, and into the future.

This minor quibble aside, the HL-5240 is an excellent printer, sporting a fast time to first page and high multi-page speeds.

The printer has the option of not one, but two extra paper trays, meaning a total of 4 different paper types can be made available without manual intervention. As a bonus, each of these paper cassettes features a gauge indicating the amount of paper contained within.

Canon LBP-3300

Unlike the Kyocera FS-1030D and the Brother HL-5240, the Canon LBP-3300 does not have a multipurpose tray to compliment its built-in paper cassette and duplexing unit. While it does allow the manual insertion of paper via a “transactional” frontloading slot, the use of this paper path requires that users manually hand-feed pages into the slot.

The Canon LBP-3300 produces high quality results at acceptable speeds. It can be upgraded with an optional network card, and a second paper cassette can also be installed.

Unfortunately, the fact that manual intervention is required to use the transactional paper feeder limits the printer’s suitability for use in a consultation room. Its lack of MacOS X support and its fixed drum architecture count against it further.

Conclusions

This article has highlighted some of the key characteristics to look for when purchasing a laser printer for deployment in a consultation room setting. Among these characteristics are the ability to add multiple paper trays, a fast “print to first page” time, and a low total cost of ownership.

While historically, multi-tray laser printing solutions were expensive, costs have fallen to the point where all practices can now quickly recoup the initial investment through efficiency improvements.

The printers discussed in this article from both Kyocera and Brother are excellent options for a consulting room. Because of their slightly differing feature sets and prices, the author found it difficult to rank these printers for all situations with conviction.

If duplex and network functionality aren’t important to your practice, the Brother HL-5240 is likely to an appealing choice. With the option for a total of four paper trays, it also has the ability to deliver the greatest efficiency improvements over the course of its lifetime.

If network or duplex functionality is required, the Brother HL-5250DN is well priced, as is the Kyocera FS-1030D when the total cost of ownership is considered.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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