Is Your Doctor's iPad Good For Your Health?

Surgeons, doctors, nurses, residents, and other medical professionals all regularly use iPads on the job. The practice has inspired a cottage industry, health care innovation, and privacy concerns.

Slowly but surely, iPads are changing the face of medicine. Surgeons, physicians, nurses, and residents regularly use the ubiquitous tablets to check electronic health records (EHRs), patient notes, journal articles, procedure notes, or just to access patient imaging. iPad use isn't limited to offices and hallways either: Sterilized iPads are frequently found in the operating room as well.

One recent academic study in Medical Reference Services Quarterly found widespread iPad use among clinicians at one sample hospital, Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital is similar to most other hospitals nationwide in terms of iPad adaption. For medical professionals, iPads--and pocket-sized iPad Minis--are optimal tools for quick image reference while hustling from room to room. Washington, D.C. orthopedic surgeon Felasfa Wodajo wrote in 2010 about one iPad sterilization procedure for the operating room: plastic baggies. Wodajo, who uses iPads in the operating room, inserts the tablets into X-ray cassette sterile bags and then clamps the top opening with a hemostat. Once in the bag, iPads can even be operated while the surgeon wears a glove.

OsiriX, a popular free, open-source medical imaging viewer, has a separate iPad version. OsiriX can be used in conjunction with Dropbox by medical professionals for sharing of patient data, a popular option in many hospitals and private practices. Another popular iPad app for physicians is the secure medical messaging app TigerText. Citrix, a prominent maker of medical EMR software, also comes in iPad flavor.

Unfortunately, privacy advocates find issue with the use of Dropbox by medical professionals. Dropbox does not have HIPAA certification for use in health care settings. Despite this, anecdotal evidence given to Fast Company suggests Dropbox is used frequently on the job by medical professionals.

Medical professionals have adopted the iPad Mini with a vengeance. As industry journal iMedicalApps notes, iPad Minis fit in white doctor's coat pockets. Although exact numbers are sketchy, portable health software provider Epocrates--not exactly a disinterested party--claims one in three physicians they surveyed plan to purchase an iPad Mini.

There are critics, however, of the increasing use of iPads in medical settings. Rush University Medical Center's Tanu S. Pandey wrote in the Society of General Internal Medicine Forum that iPads can distract residents from talking to patients. “There are several observations that I have
made during my day-to-day work that I would like to share. Residents seem to spend less time with patients and more time in front of their electronic devices. They often place orders based on the documentation from other provider’s notes before completing their history and examination. This can compromise medical care,” Pandey wrote.

iPads are also playing in future medical tech. Robot vendor iRobot (who, incidentally, recently stopped by Fast Company's offices), recently introduced a medical telepresence robot to connect doctors with patients in remote locations through video and a remote-controlled stethoscope. On the doctor's end, the robot is controlled through a special iPad app.

As might be expected, there are also creative entrepreneurs selling medical professional-friendly iPad accessories. California-based Alphyn Industries markets a $199 iPad-harnessing jacket that holds an iPad directly in front of a user for arms-free usage. Another company, Griffin, offers a $90 medical iPad sling designed to let users use their tablet with one hand during rounds.

[Images: Griffin, Flickr user Juhan Sonin]

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