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.