Now that Apple’s bombshell has finally been dropped and the world has met the iPad, its finally time to begin separating fact from fiction. Will the iPad boast the same outstanding user interface as the iPhone and iPod Touch? Yes. Will the iPad solve world hunger? Probably not. Will the iPad be a useful tool in medicine, perhaps even transform the way healthcare is delivered or electronic medical records organized? The jury is still out on that one but, admittedly, I am skeptical. Here are a few of the reasons why.
1) For a healthcare provider’s day-to-day use, the iPad doesn’t do anything better than an iPhone or a laptop/desktop.
In considering whether to invest in an iPad, my question is simple – how does this device help me do my job better? The iPhone answered this question by enabling me to put a wealth of medical resources into a small mobile format. In certain health systems, I can even check on new labs or radiology reports from anywhere in the hospital via my iPhone. I’m less convinced the iPad offers similar benefits, at least beyond the iPhone or iPod Touch. Improved graphics or a higher resolution screen don’t really matter much for reading text or looking at numbers. And when it comes to looking at CT, MRI, Echo, or other kinds of imaging where resolution does matter, I’m going to use the 25’’ high-resolution monitors that are available in the hospital. While I agree that this would all be much “cooler” on the iPad (it’d be fun to scroll through a high resolution CT on a larger screen in the cafeteria), the fact is that specialists, such as radiologists, are the ones who really degree of resolution and their screens are already better than the iPad. The iPad certainly does it all, but I have yet to see how it’s a significant improvement over the iPhone in this type of day to day use.
2) Big hurdles face development of peripherals for more advanced healthcare functions
The mobility of the iPad certainly offers some opportunities for the more procedural tasks of hospital care. For example, there would certainly be value to a peripheral that measured blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs and then uploaded them to the inpatient electronic medical record. Or for a peripheral adapter that allowed connection to fiber optic cameras or ultrasounds, allowing me to view or record the images from my iPad to the electronic medical record. These are all intriguing possibilities. However, the big obstacle here are the entrenched powers currently in control. Medical devices are a big money game, and companies like Stryker, who make a number of such devices, including fiberoptic cameras, will likely not want to cede the user interface of their platforms to Apple, let alone standardize connectivity options with other device manufacturers.
I mean this in two ways. First, patient safety. Infection control is a paramount concern in hospitals today. You don’t want to know the number of protective layers I had to wear at the height of H1N1 (or the cost of this extra protection). If the iPad is going to do more than be an EMR portal for writing patients notes and reading their records, then it has to be strong enough to withstand disinfection procedures. Second, property safety. Desktops are hard to steal, laptops are easier, and an iPad would be a breeze. If patient information is stored or accessible on the iPad, the hospital’s lawyers will demand a pretty high level of security.
With that said, Apple has had discussions with with Epic, a major electronic medical record developer, on iPhone OS integration. I’m sure the parties involved in these discussions have thought about the potential the iPad has for EMR use. And I do think there is potential in healthcare, particularly in niches where tablets are already used (such as emergency medical services). There is a case to be made that this is the first tablet that’s easy and fun to use and it will succeed where prior tablets have failed. And while we at iMedicalApps have some differing opinions about the possibilities of the iPad, we’re excited to see what happens once developers start making medical apps for the iPad.
And by the way, while the iPad is certainly the coolest kid on the block, at least one competitor (Freescale) may offer customized tablets running open-source operating systems like Android for as little as $200.