Is the iPad mini right for healthcare?

By Eric Wicklund
09:52 AM

It's been about a week now since the iPad Mini was made available to the public, and while the early reviews have been mixed, the healthcare industry is reacting favorably to the new tablet.

"The key is the size," says Marianne Braunstein, vice president of product management for Epocrates, who notes that one-third of physicians who responded to a survey prior to the iPad Mini's release indicated they were going to purchase one. "This is really something that physicians can carry around. You're going to see favoritism based on size."

The 7.9-inch Mini joins a crowded field of tablets both small and large, including Apple's own iPad 2 and the fourth-generation iPad (both of which measure in at 9.7 inches) And while tech reviews have targeted screen sharpness and aspect ratio – as well as its price tag – some healthcare experts say the Mini is going to fill a niche in clinical circles that hasn't been met.

"This fits right into the pocket of a lab coat," adds Ash Shehata, Cisco's senior executive director for healthcare in the Americas. He said Cisco had seen positive reviews of its own seven-inch tablet before that device was phased out.

Both Braunstein and Shehata say the development of smartphones and smaller tablets like the Mini will challenge the larger tablets for relevance in the clinical setting, enabling doctors and nurses to carry around two devices rather than lining their belts with a variety of gadgets.

"You're balancing life and work and better efficiency," says Braunstein. She says physicians have been looking for a "bridge" between their smartphone – which they'll always carry around with them – and the larger tablet or stationary PC, which will remain in the clinical setting for more complex uses.

"You're looking for an in-between that enhances the utilization of technology and workflows," she says.

Shehata points out that physicians making their rounds, or doctors working in a clinic, don't need mobile devices that "do everything" because they don't want to be overwhelmed with tasks and chores that don't necessarily need to be done remotely. The challenge lies in creating a tablet and populating that device with apps that improve the clinician's interaction with the patient and make the best use of the clinician's time.

Shehata says the future lies in creating a network of cloud-based services that gives clinicians access to all the data they need while ensuring security. This would address "application convergence" by giving users a platform on which to pick and choose what they need to access. And it would compel developers and IT departments to create simpler apps.

"They need to be designed (to be) more efficient," he says. "As the cloud begins to emerge as a delivery vehicle, it's going to be easier for the user to create unique workflows."

Not everyone is sold on the Mini. In an interview with eWeek, Gregg Malkary, Spyglass Consulting's founder and managing director, said the Mini's smaller screen size could have a negative effect on accessing applications or entering data.

"If all you're going to be doing is accessing reference tools through the drug database, it could be an excellent tool," Malkary told eWeek. "For those that require data entry, there has to be a better way.