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iPad in Healthcare: A Game Changer?

By John Moore
09:00 AM
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There have been a lot of discussions on the net regarding the potential impact of the iPad in the healthcare sector. At this point, there is very little agreement with some pointing to the ubiquitous nature of the iPhone in healthcare as a foreshadowing of the iPad’s future impact, while others point to the modest uptake of tablet computing platforms as a precursor for minimal impact.

Our 2 cents worth…

We believe the iPad will see the biggest impact in two areas: medical education and patient-clinician communication.

The iPad’s rich user interface, native support for eReading, strong graphics (color) capabilities, ability to use various medical calculators (there are a slew of them already in the AppStore) and numerous other medical apps (most of these are iPhone apps and will need to be updated to take full advantage of the iPad’s larger 9″ screen) provides an incredibly rich ecosystem/learning environment for medical students. Nothing else comes close – a slam-dunk for Apple.

That rich, graphical user interface, it’s inherent e-reader capabilities and portability also lends itself as possibly the best patient education platform yet created to foster patient-clinician interaction. At bedside, a clinician has the ability to review with a patient a given treatment, say a surgical procedure, prior to the operation showing rich anatomical details (e.g., a patient’s 64 slice color enhanced 3D CAT scan), potential risks, etc. Heck, one could even show a video clip of the procedure right there on the iPad.  Now that is cool and sure beats the common approach today, some long lecture that oft-times is difficult to follow.

Beyond those two compelling use cases, other uses in healthcare for the iPad include its use by nurses and hospitalists to provide bedside care, tap multiple apps (hopefully multi-tasking will come in OS v4.0 to be announced on April 8th), in an intuitive environment. As to how the iPad may extend beyond these limited boundaries for support of say charge capture and CPOE remains to be seen but in the immortal words of many an Apple iPhone advertisement:

"There is an app for that."

And based on some of our initial conversations with mHealth app developers, many are already working on just these types of applications for the iPad, which they hope to bring to market within next several months.

One thing is certain, from at least one data point we received this past weekend, there is strong, initial interest in the medical community as to what the iPad may facilitate. Speaking to one of the technical folks at the local Apple store this past weekend we learned the following: Of the 1,000 iPads sold on Saturday (this store did sell-out), 700 were sold off the floor and 300 were reserved for business customers. Of those “business customers” a significant share of those 300 iPads (north of 30%) were sold to local medical institutions.

One of those local healthcare institutions appears to be Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) where an ER doc has provided his own iPad review, based on actual use during a shift. Particularly like his comment about using it for patient education.  Might the iPad truly bridge the information gap between patient and clinician? One thing is for certain, it will make it much easier for patient and clinician to confer over a given diagnosis, results and creation of a treatment plan with supporting documentation/graphics.

Read into that what you may but one thing is for certain, there is significant interest in the healthcare sector to at least understand how the iPad may be used within the context of care delivery in a hospital. It remains to be seen as to how end users will actually use these devices and what apps will be developed to serve this market (might Epocrates see stronger uptake for their EMR on the iPad vs. the iPhone?) that take advantage of the larger, 9″ screen, but based on what we have experienced with the iPhone, there are likely more than a few developers right now working on novel applications that clinicians will find valuable. Question is: Will they be valuable enough to augment the extra weight and volume of lugging the iPad versus a smartphone?

Only time will tell.

That being said, based on initial impressions of physicians, such as the one from BIDMC (see above) and our own limited experience in using the iPad this week, the iPad is pretty incredible and could usher in a whole new approach to healthcare IT (interfacing to and interacting with an EMR/EHR system) that may result in physicians adopting and using such technology, willingly. Could we even go so far as to say that the iPad will be a bigger contributor to HIT adoption and use than the $40B in ARRA funding that the feds will spend over the next several years as part of the HITECH Act?

Again, only time will tell.

Appendix:

Some other perspectives on the iPad in healthcare:

Article in HealthLeaders with some interviews with med professionals buying an iPad at Apple store in SanDiego.

ComputerWorld article looking at various business sector (including healthcare) uses of iPad.

Post by iPhone iMedicalApps on some of the current challenges for those adopting an iPad for medical use (virtually all the problems listed will be resolved within next few months)

Another post, this time at iPhoneCTO looks at the iPad in the med space for workforce mgmt.

Well look at this!  Children’s Hospital here in Boston announced today (4/8/10) that it has received one of the recent HHS innovation grants to “…investigate, evaluate, and prototype approaches to achieving an “iPhone-like” health information technology platform model…”

 

John Moore blogs regularly at Chilmark Research.