Test driving the iPad in the hospital Operating Room [Part-1]

Many, including ourselves at iMedicalApps, have speculated on the possible uses of the iPad in various healthcare settings.  So we decided to test the iPad in the operating room.  The first question we had was: “Will the iPad work properly in the sterile environment of the operating room?”

The short answer to that question is yes – but in the process we had some interesting findings on how the iPad’s capacitive screen works with gloves and sterile enclosures – potentially affecting how the iPad will be used in the healthcare setting.

Making the iPad sterile:

A simple xray cassette sterile bag, ubiquitous in the OR, holds an iPad comfortably. Once the iPad is inserted in the plastic bag by the circulating nurse, the top of the bag is cut off, folded back, and clamped with a hemostat, as shown in the below picture. The iPad can now be safely brought into the sterile field.


Importantly, the iPad touchscreen works quite well through the plastic bag, even while wearing gloves. Somehow, the touch of the plastic bag itself against the glass screen registers as a valid touch. I had no problems navigating with the iPad, or using the pinch and zoom functionality to view radiology images.

This was somewhat of a surprise since, as many people have noticed (see our story of the Pogo Sketch), using an iPhone’s screen with gloves is difficult, and nearly impossible if one is double gloved.

What is the use of an iPad in the OR?

There are a myriad or uses, but the same features that make the iPad great for surfing the web, looking at images, and viewing video also make it a potential hit in the operating room.  Plus, the portable form factor allows for a greater level of flexibility in the OR where space can be limited.

Where I can see the iPad being an asset in the OR will be the ability to bring in relevant medical imaging directly to the operative site, the ability to review relevant anatomy at the point of care (huge), and the opportunity to enhance resident teaching. Also, the ability to access a 3G network allows you to bypass the hospitals network, which can sometimes be restricted – not allowing you to access remote files and office EMRs.  We’ve already shown how a California Hospital is using the Citrix app on the iPad to access their electronic medical records – something we foresee happening more frequently.

My initial impression while using the iPad in the OR showed promise.  First, the ability to put the iPad in a sterile enclosure is a big step.  On top of that, the ability to use it without requiring an external stylus is huge.  These findings alone should put developers and physicians on notice when brainstorming potential applications that could benefit healthcare providers at the point of care – and should change the way they think about where the iPad can be used.

We’ll be bringing you more of our findings in subsequent posts and also delve deeper into the uses of the iPad in healthcare.


Felasfa Wodajo, MD

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21 Responses to Test driving the iPad in the hospital Operating Room [Part-1]

  1. Marc-Emile June 14, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    I think a lot of people will agree… The most important role for the iPad in the OR will be to allow the people who are scrubed in to change songs themselves! Nevermind looking at MRI or CT! Music is where the iPad is going to shine 😀

    • Iltifat Husain June 14, 2010 at 9:58 am #

      hahaha, just wait until they give the thing voice enabled controls for the music….

  2. Felasfa Wodajo June 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    I think you’re on to something, Pandora + wireless speakers. The OR will never be the same

    • Iltifat Husain June 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

      And i’m sure the medical student will be in charge of changing the stations…hahaha

  3. Kmenex June 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Interesting that music and operating go hand in hand, as you seem to speak.

    I think you surgeons should all wear fancy uniforms.

  4. at still June 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    Of course, leave it to an orthopod to scrub w/ an iPad. Now if Synthes could come up with electronic templates for the iPad…

    • Felasfa Wodajo June 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

      I thought you were going to say “if only they could get ESPN”…

      • Iltifat Husain June 17, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

        Hey…there’s an app for that…

  5. Med Beasts June 17, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Definitely seems like the versatility could lead to some interesting uses. Outside of the OR, I’m particularly excited about advances in portable imaging.

    As far as teaching, I know residents and students are often struggling to gilmpse a view of the field (or even the screen) in the OR; this would definitely help with that…

    • Iltifat Husain June 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

      yea, check out our recent post about portable imaging. HUGE potential for the iPad there…


      When you mentioned medical students trying to get a glimpse of the field I had a mental picture of being able to use the iPad while getting pimped…”name all the causes of cholecystitis…” err….let me try UpToDate…

      • Med Beasts June 18, 2010 at 4:39 am #

        Thanks for that link… very cool stuff.

        Oh, and the only problem with using an iPad over an iPhone while getting pimped is that it’s less discreet. :)

        • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

          this is very true

        • Dave718 September 10, 2010 at 5:18 am #

          But then again, your attending is less likely to accuse you of texting during rounds…

        • Felasfa Wodajo September 10, 2010 at 5:33 am #

          Good point

        • Iltifat Husain September 10, 2010 at 5:46 am #

          you bring up an excellent point….

  6. Raymond Ragland July 13, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Felasfa (Phil):
    Great to see your work here, but really no surprise. I’m a hand surgeon having trouble finding downloadable relevant texts on iPad. Any tips (amazon and iBooks have a limited number of books).

    Your former junior resident;

    • Felasfa Wodajo July 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

      Hi Ray

      Great to hear from you. Where are you practicing ?

      Not much orthopedic content available on the iPhone & iPad that I know of. Elsevier was making a push with their Campbell’s Orthopedics and their Procedures Consult apps on the iPhone. They also have web (desktop) subscription content available in radiology & orthopedics which is well done and would presumably work on the iPad. I have not looked for Kindle & epub versions of Green’s & other texts but they may exist. Stay tuned to the Blio since they are making a push into the trade publisher world and may get some traction there (/20…

      Long live DC General !


  7. Agrainger July 29, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Physicians are embracing mobile healthcare technology. Is technology ahead of practice transformation? Will mobile technology improve efficiency and quality of care?
    Is FDA approval required on applications for physician liability and patient safety? Will this emerging technology redesign healthcare delivery?

    Smith Seckman Reid will be hosting a “Mobile Healthcare Technology Summit”. We will be interviewing and highlighting ways healthcare clinicians are using mobile technology, discussing liability and patient safety issues and defining best practices for quality of care. Please let Allison Grainger know if you would like to be included on the invitation list. agrainger@ssr-inc.com.

  8. Oyvindfjell September 22, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    What about electrical safety – the requierements of EN60601 applaies when used within pation area?

    • Felasfa Wodajo September 22, 2010 at 2:07 am #

      Not sure what you are referring to – the possibility of electrical interference with existing devices or danger to the patient from the iPad itself. As for the former, I have not heard any verified information relating concern. Many of the previous warnings about cell phone use in hospitals seem to be less pertinent as cell phones and devices evolve over time and interact less. As for the former, I am not sure if there should be any concern due the low voltage of the device and its insulation.

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