Last week an Australian politician, Victorian Premier John Brumby, announced as part of his health policy platform the distribution of iPads to every physician. He is promising $12 million in funding to buy iPads for every doctor working in Victoria’s [second most populous state in Australia] public hospital system. On initial take, such a proposition seems outlandish.

Critical thoughts that come to mind: What is giving an iPad to every physician going to accomplish if proper teaching and work flow lessons are not taught?  Whats the point in having an iPad if you don’t have the proper software or EMR?  These is no way the program can only cost $12 million if you’re giving an iPad to every physician in the second most populous state in Australia.

While these thoughts do have merit, the state of Victoria is surprisingly one of the best suited places for such a program to thrive due to the following three reasons:

Pilot Program already in place

Currently, the state of Victoria already has a pilot program set up to test the functionality of the iPad in the healthcare space.  In this pilot program that we mentioned months ago, we wrote how physicians in Victoria were testing up to 500 iPads with $500,000 in funding for the project.  The program is set to roll out in January of 2011, and should provide invaluable data on the use of mobile point of care devices in healthcare settings.  Obviously, the findings of this project will be essential if a more broad mobile device program is implemented.

Government backing of e-Health

The government showed how serious they are about e-Health when they recently passed patient identifier legislation that enables the issuing of 16 digit identifier numbers to patients in Australia.  These identifiers will enable patients to share their health record among different providers, and was a huge part of the overall $466.7 million the Australian government is investing into revolutionizing e-Health.  This type of patient record mobility bodes will for mobile device use in the healthcare setting — especially the ambulatory one.

Financial Feasibility

Financially, Brumby is proposing $12 million be spent towards funding the “iPads for physicians” program.  This number, while still below the actual cost, is relatively close.  ZDnet crunched the numbers and based on the quantity of physicians in 2006 – estimated to be approximately 20,000, the total cost for tandard iPads with WiFi would be $13.08 million – about one million over the proposed budget allocation.  Something not being realized by many is it will certainly cost millions more to implement such a program.  There are tutorials and work flow management skills that would be required, otherwise such a program would certainly cause the devices being used to become paper weights.

So whats the overall catch? Brumby maintains his promise is only good if his incumbent Labor Government is returned to power in the state’s upcoming election.

At the end of the day, does this idea have overall merit? Yes, but it’s important this mobile program is not limited to the iPad.  Physicians need to have a choice, and with another legitimate mobile tablet in the ecosystem – the Blackberry Playbook – the iPad is not the only tablet worth considering anymore.