Is health care ready for the iPad and other new technology?

I think I may have a problem, but it’s not clear exactly what it is, or if it even truly is a concern.

I’m not a “techie” so to speak.  I have trouble figuring out how to enter the code for my garage door opener without making some fundamental mistake, due to a deficit embedded in my cerebral cortex at some level.  But that is not coupled with an associated lack of interest in new technologies, or a fascination with what they might become.  In that way, I become a “dangerous student” as new devices are presented to me.

Thus it is with the iPad.  My iPad was purchased for me by my lovely wife last April.  While feigning indignation and objection, I rushed to the door as the UPS truck slowed to a stop, and almost ripped the small box out of his hands.  And so it began.

It’s now coming up on almost 9 months with Paddi.  And that’s the first potential problem.  You see, my wife, Robin, and I have assigned a personal name to the iPad.  Rather than asking if one can use the iPad, we inquire if Paddi  is available.  Likely this is inconsequential, but the personalization of an inanimate device may be a suggestion of an underlying issue.  However. I’m not yet able to fully define the impact of that possibility.

In it’s first few months, it was an interesting and intriguing toy.  With my propensity for exploration along with an associated short attention span, I spent much time locating and downloading free applications–irrespective  of whether or not there were any potential uses for me personally.  That may be why after a recent purging of “intellectually inactive” applications,  I still have more than 190 applications on my Paddi — oops,I mean my iPad.

But there’s been an evolution, and I’m wondering if this personifies how the journey will progress, and if it will be a predictor of whatever the next “new” device will be.  For I’m writing this on a plane, traveling for a business trip.  Yet I have done what once would have been unthought  of—I’ve left my laptop sitting on my desk at work, and have decided to make this sojourn with  just Paddi.

In addition, it’s now rare that I’m seen at a meeting without my little friend, merrily taking notes, or if the  meeting gets real slow, checking emails and SportCenter scores on ESPN (just kidding).  As I’ve incorporated Dropbox, GoodReader, Pages, Evernote, iAnnotatePDF, New York Times, USA Today, NPR, ABC, PBS, Gilt — the list continues, the iPad has moved from being an interesting eccentricity, to an  integral part of my life.

Now there are issues, of course, as it’s the first iteration.  I’m waiting patiently, or perhaps not, for the next version.  It will be better.  And the proliferation of other tablet like devices will only  fuel the competition.  It’s mind boggling that the iPhone  and iPad are approaching 10,000,000,000 application downloads, and the curve is still  climbing logothrimically.

So of course, as someone in the health care arena, watching the development  of new ways  of delivering health care, and seeing many  of them based on models from years past, rarely addressing the explosion of social media, technology, changing cultural ideas on relationships and communications, I’m concerned we’re putting “new wheels on a horse and buggy.”  There’s a lot of good ideas being implemented across many health care systems, no doubt.  But if we don’t purposefully and creatively begin to think about how to integrate this exploding world into ours, we’ll become even more separated and fragmented than we are now.

There are issues abounding–privacy, availability, cost, access, to name  a few–but those sound a bit like trying to explain away a tsunami.   It’s been said that within 2-3 years we’ll all be using a technology on a regular basis  that we don’t even know exists today.  That’s exciting, but also a bit frightening.   In health care, we’re still battling with the use of an electronic medical record, and fighting in some cases a fierce battle to hold on to the traditional paper record.  What will the future look like if we don’t embrace new technologies, albeit carefully, in creating a “health” system, rather than a “sick care” system.

Paddi and I are sitting on a plane, connected to my work computer sitting in my office, listening to Pandora radio, reviewing a presentation I’m working on, checking in on Facebook and Twitter.

Could you have imagined that even two years ago?  So what’s to come?

Gary Oftedahl is Chief Knowledge Officer of the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement.

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