Apple's new iPad may have added weight in healthcare market

'The message being that Apple is trying to push the iPad to be more of a PC replacement'
By Eric Wicklund
10:36 AM
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Doc and patient with tablet

Apple is trying to make the tablet work better in healthcare circles, and it's calling on an Ireland-based tech company for help.

During Apple's Sept. 14 launch party, officials unveiled a new, larger iPad designed primarily for the enterprise market. The iPad Pro, described by Tim Cook as "the biggest news in iPad since the iPad," features a 12.9-inch viewing surface and 64-bit processor, among other things. Set to go on sale in November, it will sell for between $799 and $1,079 (the optional keyboard costs an extra $169, and the stylus, called an Apple Pencil, costs $99) and is targeted at a market now dominated by the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

It may prove an ideal fit in healthcare settings, particularly in situations where a laptop or PC is too clunky and a smartphone is too small. Consider a medical student trying to dig deep into an anatomy lesson in the classroom or lab, a doctor in a sports clinic explaining a ruptured Achilles or torn ACL/MCL to an athlete, or perhaps a health worker in an inner city clinic illustrating organ damage to a homeless person.

"It makes sense for Apple to reveal a new keyboard along with new, larger-screen iPads with faster processors," Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., told The New York Times following the launch party. "The message being that Apple is trying to push the iPad to be more of a PC replacement, a converged device of a tablet notebook that has broader computing powers."

That's where 3D4Medical comes in.

Based in Dublin and launched in 2010, 3D4Medical has recorded more than 8.5 million downloads worldwide of its medical apps, and it boasts a library of more than 40,000 high-resolution 3D medical images. 3D4Medical and Apple have had a long history together, dating back to Apple's 2012 WorldWide Developer's Conference (and appearing in Apple iPad commercials since then). 

Irene Walsh, 3D4's head of design, was on stage during Apple's glitzy launch party earlier this month to explain how the new iPad Pro, using 3D4 apps and images, gives clinicians, medical students and researchers a high-definition 3D model of the body – or any part of the body – that can be modified on the go. For instance, a doctor could present to a patient an image of his or her knee, then "cut into" the knee to show off ruptured ligaments or tendons. In another case, a doctor in a remote clinic or ER could modify the model to explain a broken or fractured bone, wounds, organs, even the specific size and shape of bone spurs for an arthritic patient.

"I can actually share this model with my patient and record a conversation," she added – a key fact to consider, since researchers have estimated that a typical patient only remembers about 14 percent of the conversation with a doctor.

John Moore, 3D4Medical's founder and chief executive, says that ability to not only show patient what's happening to his or her body, but record that conversation into the medical record will give the iPad Pro and 3D4Medical added weight in the healthcare market.

"There are massive changes going on within hospitals with physicians and how they consult," Moore said in a recent profile in the Independent. "New laws will say that if you go to a consultant, he must make a medical record and store it. There are a lot of things attached to that, to educate the user. Because of that legislation and because our stuff is digitized, it's a natural progression that the consultant uses an app and backs it up into an electronic medical record."

Analysts have said Apple will face stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft and Samsung in the enterprise space, but with the success in healthcare circles of the iPhone and platforms like HealthKit and ResearchKit – and a slow-but-steady growth pattern for the Apple Watch – it's impossible to overlook what the iPad Pro might be able to do.

This story first appeared on Healthcare IT News' sister site mHealth News here.