When I first entered the clinical world, physician order entry and electronic medical records were just concepts to me. As I learned how to navigate the hospital, diagnose everything from the mundane to the incredibly rare (my first patient was a baby with an idiopathic subdural venous thrombosis), and figure out how to treat the sick, I also had to learn how to use those two systems as a prerequisite to doing everything else. The four hours of class didn’t seem to cut it, so I probably spent at least a month trying to get my bearings on how to manage these IT systems. So for anyone who is already familiar with some form of healthcare technology, in this case a tablet, I suspect the adoption cost is far higher than just the price tag. You may be surprised how highly some medical students and residents weigh the notion of learning a new system in their career decisions. And because of what seems to be a particularly high barrier to adopting new information technology in healthcare, anyone interested in whether the iPad will succeed in healthcare should first ask who the competition is.

One member of the healthcare tablet family is Motion Computing and it’s tablet, the C5. The C5 has many things that a physician, nurse, pharmacist, and many other healthcare providers would want. First and foremost, its a rugged piece of equipment. It’s designed to be capable for taking a hit on the floor or being cleaned with disinfectants. If you’ve seen the sheer number of hand sanitizer dispensers in a hospital, you know how important that latter capability is. It also has a barcode scanner and RFID reader. This feature would be incredibly helpful for nurses who need to verify patient identity before dispensing a medication or confirm a medication they are about to administer is the correct one. In addition, it has built-in microphone and camera, the latter of which would be very helpful in areas such as wound management or patient identification. As for the microphone, if the Speak Anywhere technology is as good as Motion Computing claims, it would allow physicians to dictate patient notes without a peripheral microphone (though I suspect its not that good). Also, these machines are  Windows and stylus based. While this isn’t necessarily a functional strength, it does reduce some short-term barriers to adoption by increasing the likelihood of compatibility with established EMR’s. And if you’re going to be working with patient information in a HIPAA world, security is crucial. That’s why data security solutions for tablets like the C5, specifically those using Intel processors, are another crucial advantage that established vendors like Motion Computing have.

All of that being said, there is certainly a reason tablets like the C5 have not achieved widespread adoption already. For example, the C5 weighs in at over 3lbs, not that heavy, but more than twice as much as the 1.5lb iPad. In addition, it’s battery life is pretty weak in comparison with the iPad, 4 hours vs. 10 hours (per manufacturers reports).  To me – this means I’d have to lug the C5 around all day, stopping probably twice on the average day to charge up. And while the fact that it can run Windows 7 is key for compatibility and widespread adoption, there is a reason the iPhone has been so incredibly successful. Its user-interface and enormous developer community make it a far more versatile and easier to use medium than a Windows-based product can be. Finally, the $2,000+ price tag on the C5 makes it a large investment for even a suburban dermatology practice, let alone cash-strapped hospitals and private primary care practices.

So is the healthcare tablet market ripe for an iPad sweep or do the entrenched players already have the market cornered? Frankly, I can’t predict the future. On the one hand, the C5 has most of the features I’d want in a tablet. However, it also has a few things I don’t want, especially an eye-popping price-tag. And while the iPad really wallops the C5 on those weaknesses, it doesn’t come close to approaching its strengths. Honestly, I don’t think either tablet really fits the bill for what healthcare needs. But I’m excited Apple has entered this market, not because I think the iPad will become the dominant tablet, but because I want to see this fight. Apple’s record of innovation are likely to spur unprecedented competition in the healthcare tablet arena – and that kind of competition is almost always good for the consumer.