Updated! This post has been updated below to include comments from the folks at Epocrates

The excitement and hype surrounding the announcement of Apple’s iPad have subsided for the time being, perhaps just a lull prior to the actual release in a few months. Here at iMedicalApps, we were certainly among the many believers and expected that the iPad could make significant contributions to healthcare, such as potentially replacing the physician’s clipboard or medical textbooks.

However, we did disagree at times on the extent to which the iPad could penetrate the healthcare market, for a variety of reasons. The folks over at Software Advice decided to try to get a feel for what the community at large was thinking through an interesting survey they performed. And for Apple, the results of this survey aren’t encouraging – if you believe the results.

Having spent nearly four years learning how to read medical literature, I decided to try to get a better sense of just how valid these results are especially considering the seemingly conflicting results of the Epocrates survey. Chris Thorman, who authored the article on the survey, was kind enough to correspond with me on details of the survey methodology. Here’s a look at the results and our take on what they really mean.

According to the Software Advice survey, the medical community wants a tablet, with a third of respondents saying that they are likely to purchase a tablet. For over half of respondents, the primary factor that would guide their purchasing decision would be ease of use, with a fifth identifying software as their guiding factor. Why do they want it? Over 75% of respondents identified diagnostics management (ordering/tracking tests), medical reference, clinical decision support, prescribing, imaging, and notes as tasks they would like to perform on their tablet. As you read this, an obvious question arises – these are all things the iPad could probably do well, so where does the survey go wrong for the iPad?

The survey also explores the must-have features for a tablet, with over 50% identifying Wi-Fi, durability, lightweight, availability of medical software, and fingerprint access as essential features. Fewer respondents also identified dictation capabilities, RFID reader, camera, and barcode scanning as must-have features. While the iPad clearly does fares well with regards to some of these criteria (weight, Wi-Fi, usability), it lacks most of these identified must-have features. And these are certainly features that many, including us at iMedicalApps, have discussed as notable deficits when it comes to the iPad in healthcare.

However, with any study or survey, the results are only as good as the methodology. Chris Thorman (the author) kindly shared with us the methodology for this survey which involved an online survey which was publicized through online media including blogs, LinkedIn, and  other online platforms. The demographics indicate that out of a total of approximately 175 respondents, about half function in clinical roles (physician, nurse, student) and a little less than half function in management roles (IT, admin staff). I think knowing this is useful for a few reasons. First, if the respondents were all identified via online media, then this is almost certainly a tech-savvy group. So while that may inflate the “plan to purchase tablet” numbers a bit, it also suggests that this group is sufficiently knowledgeable to give feedback on what a tablet could be used for and needs to be successful. Second, it would be interesting to break out the responses of clinical and non-clinical healthcare staff – I could certainly imagine their responses being very different. Lastly, its important to note that a study of less than 200 people is certainly not sufficiently powered to accurately predict the sentiments of the healthcare industry as a whole.

Then there’s the Epocrates survey. Their survey of 350 clinicians suggested that 20% plan to buy an iPad within one year of release, with nearly 40% expressing interest but awaiting more information. So if clinicians are so excited, what’s the deal with the disconnect with the responses in the Software Advice survey. Well, Mr. Thorman suggests an explanation – clinicians are also electronics consumers, and electronics consumers are excited. So just because the regular consumer side of these folks are interested, the clinician side may not be. I’m waiting on more information from the folks at Epocrates on the methodology of their survey, and will update you all if any enlightening information comes forward.

All of that being said, these surveys are valuable because, whatever we predict, adoption or rejection of the iPad in healthcare is ultimately a decision that will be made collectively by hundreds of thousands of providers. So in reality, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Update: 3/10/10

The kind folks at Epocrates shared the methodology of their survey with us. This survey was conducted using an established pool of clinicians – mostly MD’s, but also with PA’s/NP’s – who opt-ed in to participate in Epocrates surveys. From that pool, participants were randomly selected. So here again, we face similar issues with possible selection bias – these are folks who are fairly tech-savvy (if they are using Epocrates already). However, this probably incorporates a broader cohort than the population identified in the SoftwareAdvice survey, which used social media to recruit participants – Epocrates software certainly has broader adoption into the medical community, even the slightly less than tech-savvy folks. So overall, what I take away from all of this is that again we’re asking a group enriched in tech-savvy folks about their thoughts on a new device, but that the Epocrates survey is probably still more representative of the general medical community. Does this mean that the Software Advice survey is wrong? No – both surveys have their merits. What this survey implies to me is that its possible that the medical community, including the tech-wary, may be looking at the iPad with some interest, if I’m right that this survey population is more representative of the medical community. And maybe the “friendly” factor that contributes to the iPad’s appeal to this segment of the medical community will overcome the challenges identified in by the Software Advice survey.