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Many Health Professionals Buying iPad, But its Effect on Healthcare Still in Question

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 5, 2010

By random and unscientific measure, about one in 10 people in line to buy an iPad at a San Diego Apple Store Saturday were health providers hoping to use it for patient care.

Kevin Kaloha, an intern at nearby UCSD School of Medicine, said he was in line on orders from his Radiology Department chiefs. "They told me to come down here and buy one," he said. "I think they want to test it and try it out to see how we can use it for imaging."

Hal Meltzer, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Rady Children's Hospital, was also eager to test it out in his practice. But he isn't quite ready to bring it into the operating room.

Eventually, he thinks he and other doctors will use it, especially because its toy-like appearance may help explain medical issues to children in a less scary way.

"There's so many possibilities," said the neurosurgeon, who hopes that the device will save trips to the computer monitor to review MRI or CT images. And then there's the hospital, which can use the iPad to communicate with a doctor when his or her patient is in the emergency room.

A key is how the iPad handles EMR or EHR software applications available from Epic, Allscripts or other vendors, many of the physicians said.

Randy Hawkins, a neurologist and chief information officer for Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group's 450 doctors, hopes he can use technical "work-arounds" with Citrix or other applications to get the iPad to understand speech.

"I can do that now with my tablet PC, but it's clunky. It's my goal to have a handheld device I can talk to," he said.

Also, Hawkins said, he thinks using an iPad to take notes for patient histories will be faster than turning to his laptop or office-based computer.

Apple's technology isn't quite there for EMR, he says, a fact that he says was "disappointing. It's not yet what we need. I can't use the word ‘slick' and I won't use it until I can." For now, he's buying the device to watch movies.

Maureen Gibbins Paolini, who teaches ethical conduct in research at San Diego State, said the iPad will be useful for patient consent forms and for educating patients about clinical trials. "It encourages interaction," she said.

Theresa Gillete, an X-ray technician at Sharp Memorial's outpatient Pavilion, plans to try it out to look up imaging references. "I'm tired of carrying around a laptop on my back to and from work," she said.

And Greg Steele, an optometrist with a large group practice, thinks the iPad has great promise for certain eye exams. He doesn't know whether his medical group would see it that way, but found hope while standing in line.

"I'm just now seeing the main doctor who's in charge of the medical staff right there in line ahead of us. So maybe there's hope," he said with a laugh.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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