iPad: Revolutionizing Medical Care?

January 1, 2011

There’s been a lot of hype about the iPad lately. It was one of the top-searched terms of 2010 and one of the top trending topics on Twitter for the same year. Given the lightweight design and power of the iPad, a lot of people have found themselves wondering what impact it may have on the medical community.

Problem with Pen & Paper

The reality is, everyone (especially IT professionals) recognizes that current pen-and-paper methods fall short. These methods are dependent on the legibility of each care provider’s handwriting (and we all know what a doctor’s handwriting looks like). Additionally, once the information has been recorded on the chart, it must be transcribed into an electronic record (costing the care provider and the patient more money). When a patient sees multiple physicians, there’s likely a lot of duplicated effort. That’s not even considering the document storage requirements, especially for a private practice.

End-User Expectations

If care facilities are going to get away from pen-and-paper solutions, they need a way to do it that works. In the exam room, a physician or nurse would want an IT professional to create an application that can work with all the other practice applications, allowing them to see complete patient histories and allowing for easy documentation and ordering. These devices would have to work with HIT software to ensure that all areas of the care process are available to all medical professionals at all points in the process. It’s a tall order. Can you make it happen?

Are Hand-Held Devices the Solution?

In the past, handheld medical devices may have worked with the HIT software already in place, but have fallen short with poor battery life, the need for a stylus (touch pen) to enter information, and a non-intuitive interface. For many, this interrupts the flow of a typical consultation and may slow down the process, which is simply unacceptable in an emergency situation – and even in a non-emergency situation, this bottlenecking will cause a lower level of end-user buy-in (the most important kind).

The iPad

The iPad offers the same convenient advantages of paper and pen because it’s lightweight (1.6 pounds), meaning it can be carried as easily as a clipboard. It offers the same advantages as a laptop in terms of ease-of-use because it has a familiar keyboard (and can even be docked on a traditional keyboard for those who need it).

Pros

An iPad isn’t as bulky and provides a mostly traditional keyboard, meaning that the learning curve is a lot lower than other devices, which allows IT professionals to gain buy-in more quickly. Apps allow app developers and HIT software providers to provide a way the device can work with the established software. Many HIT software providers have already created such apps, meaning that an IT professional can provide an out-of-the-box solution. Additionally, medical professionals can have apps that don’t interface with the HIT software (drug dictionaries, X-ray apps, etc.).

Cons

Experienced medical professionals may be comfortable with the way things have always been done, knowing that the pen-and-paper method allows them to keep their pace (some may even be less open to using new technology). As such, an IT professional asking them to use an iPad may meet with some resistance. Also, even medical professionals who are computer-savvy already complain that many HIT suites don’t work together as well as they should on desktop computers, much less on a handheld device. As such, unless the iPad app really works the way they expect it to, it may lead them right back to the old-fashioned method.

At some point in the process, an experienced iPad app developer must be involved, as well. Because Apple has strict approval requirements and HIT software is quite complex, app development at this level isn’t likely to be a learn-as-you-go process.

Revolutionary?

Many hospitals, such as MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, Illinois, have already adopted the technology. But will iPads soon be seen in every hospital in the United States? Will iPads just be a part of a patient’s medical experience in the future? Only time will tell.