What to consider when adding the Apple iPad to your medical practice

The variety of new technology coming into the market can sometime make one’s head spin. Physicians are especially vulnerable to the call of the latest, greatest gadget. The Apple iPad certainly fits the bill when it comes to the consumer – entertainment, apps, great design. But can that translate to the environment of the medical practice? A lot of experts seem to think so, although none of them are actually in the trenches of a real medical practice.

I have both a PC and a Mac, a Kindle, a Nook, and an iPhone. So, I am not married to any particular platform. Our practice runs EMR on a wired and wireless infrastructure which is PC and Windows server-based. Because the doctors wanted a portable device when we went live with our EMR almost three years ago, we went with the latest technology at that time – tablet computers – which would still be compatible with our network.

Fast forward three years (an eternity in technology time) and only a couple of our physicians routinely use them. Why? They aren’t particularly fast, they get heavy after a couple of hours, they put out heat, and the screen resolution isn’t so great. So this is the part where we start looking for greener pastures – or nicer-looking screens – and devices like the Apple iPad.

After doing a little research and surveying some technical folks, here is a list of things to consider if you’re thinking of adding the iPad to your practice:

Pros

  1. Coolness factor. You know you would love to be able to tell your colleagues that you “run your EMR system wirelessly on iPads.”
  2. Very intuitive. If you can’t use an iPad out of the box, you probably shouldn’t be using a computer either.
  3. Wide variety of applications. Called ‘iPad apps’, there are tens of thousands of these, ranging from free to a couple of dollars in price, and in every imaginable niche interest or industry.
  4. Stable operating system. Nothing is crash-proof but these things come close.
  5. Long battery life. Ten hours of use can get you through even the worst of clinic days, but this may depend on how much the wi-fi is used.
  6. Reasonably-priced. Assuming you don’t go for the top-of-the-line model.

Cons

  1. Not designed for medical use. It’s a beautiful but fragile device, it can’t be cleaned or disinfected easily, its touch screen doesn’t work with surgical gloves on, and it doesn’t have a stylus. Can you see yourself holding it in one hand and pecking with the other?
  2. Doesn’t fit in your labcoat or pocket. Although neither does a tablet computer.
  3. Poor integration with IT infrastructure and network support. EMR software vendors would have to make some allowances for iPads to integrate with their product which would cost big bucks. They have their hands full with their own interoperability and certification issues.
  4. No multi-tasking. At least not in the current form.
  5. Doesn’t play well with some existing platforms. Apple doesn’t like Flash so its devices cannot play animations from the web or those used in many popular training and patient education programs.

A few words of advice before you rush off to the Apple Store and buy an iPad:

  • Consider some other non-Apple options for tablet devices, such as the Motorola Xoom – which uses open source software, can multitask, and plays Flash – or similar offers from other vendors like Dell or Samsung
  • Check with your IT specialist or a very tech-savvy friend about potential compatibility issues with your network
  • Try to demo a device for a couple of weeks before you buy a dozen of them

Peter J. Polack is an ophthalmologist who blogs on medical practice management and electronic medical records implementation on Medical Practice Trends.

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  • Ólafur Pálsson

    For the cons: 1. It does have a stylus, google “iPad stylus” and 2. It fits in the lab coat pockets at my hospital, get bigger pockets 3. Jailbreaking really helps, solves 4. too although it may be sluggish, 5. is a problem, but it’s possible to set up a computer to run flash for the iPad and stream the results back to the iPad, but that’s probably sluggish too, haven’t tried it myself

  • http://twitter.com/sarasteinmd Sara Stein MD

    thank you for the sage advice! I’m shopping and testing this week and the flash thing had me hesitating!

  • http://twitter.com/WhitePlumeTech White Plume Tech

    They’ve already solved “con” #2 by having iPad pockets on lab coats (e.g., http://www.labwear.com/shop/ipad-lab-coats.htm)