What Tablets (Now) Mean To Healthcare

by , Mar 23, 2012, 6:47 AM
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Electronic tablets, perhaps now even more so that chemical ones, are having a major impact on medicine and healthcare. New, improved technologies are coming out so fast and we are using them so intensively that our sense of time and space has been disrupted in ways that have nothing to do with Einstein. Today, as the world rushes to snap up Apple’s third-generation iPad, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the speed and scale of what’s happened, and where it could lead.

In barely two years, Apple has launched three versions of the iPad and is well on the way to becoming the healthcare industry technology of choice. Right from the launch of the first model in April 2010, healthcare professionals quickly saw the iPad as a version of portable untethered computing with great potential across the whole range of healthcare needs and settings. As I write this, thousands of HCPs are toting iPads and are enthusiastically swapping tips on smart ways to use them; you could find hundreds of healthcare-related articles and discussions about how the iPad is set to revolutionize healthcare.

Within a year of launch, one survey found that 27% of American primary care providers and specialists had a tablet computer. Another found 22% had an iPad – and that was long before the launch of the iPad 2 in 2011, let alone the much-awaited new iPad.  It’s not only an American phenomenon; a Q4 2011 survey by Manhattan Research found 26% of practicing physicians surveyed in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK said that they own an iPad.

We’re not talking about the old familiar “early adopter” curve here; it’s not a few geeky and hip HCPs who are leading the charge. The University of Chicago’s Internal Medicine procured 115 iPads for its medical residency program in November 2010 and has created a blueprint for others to implement the iPad in a hospital setting. UC Irvine’s incoming medical students each get an iPad loaded with everything necessary for the initial year of course work.  The Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a 1,000-iPad pilot test last year and shortly afterwards, in the fall, announced it would procure as many as 100,000 tablet computers, many for clinicians. The iPad is increasingly gaining fans in other eminent medical institutions such as Johns Hopkins, the Health Corporation of American, Mayo Clinic and Ottawa Hospital.

This is to say nothing of pharma’s embrace as well, with tens of thousands of iPads now being deployed in the field at nearly every major pharmaceutical company. Gartner predicts that by 2013, iPad penetration among pharmaceutical sales reps will reach 85%. For perhaps the first time ever, sales reps and their physician customers are wielding the same device, creating new channel opportunities to transit information and experiences between them. There are plenty of factors contributing to the iPad’s current dominance of the field, and its likely continued preeminence if Apple continues raising the bar.  As the market leader, it’s the “safe choice” for the industry, plus it has a far more mature ecosystem of apps and add-ons. Like all Apple products, the iPad is easy to use and like all Apple products it’s the industry standard in sleek design, desirability and coolness.

IPad – as disruptive as x-rays

In the mobile devices space, Apple has set a breakneck pace of upgrades and enhancements. The features of the new iPad make the two-year-old original’s look primitive, so it’s likely the 2014 iPad will make the 2012 version look passé.  Right now that’s hard to imagine. With 2048 x 1536 resolution, quad-core graphics, 4g wireless, 5 megapixel camera, HD video recording and Bluetooth v4.0 Smart Ready connectivity, it already has more than enough to make it a healthcare professional’s dream machine.

Key new features are the Smart Ready Bluetooth and the HD display. With low-power, energy-efficient BT v4.0, the iPad 3 (and the iPhone 4S) can act as receiver and hub for a whole new ecosystem of Smart Ready medical devices such as glucometers and heart-rate monitors. Many more will be developed.  BT v4.0 enables 128-bit encryption, which goes a long way to allaying data eavesdropping concerns. With the HD display, healthcare professionals, patients and consumers can see the data and track trends in superfine detail.

The intriguing question now is not whether, but how this sleek package of powerful technologies will disrupt healthcare itself.  The industry is full of advanced science and technology but relatively few technologies have fundamentally changed the practice and outcomes of healthcare: vaccination, X-rays, blood transfusion, antibiotics and MRI scanning.

At first glance there’s no comparing the iPad with those breakthrough medical technologies; what it offers is not preventive, diagnostic nor therapeutic. It’s not even a medical device.

While the monitoring functions will be useful, they are likely to be “nice-to-have” add-ons to the core strength of the iPad, which is rich, powerful information and communication. In many respects the iPad is a state-of-the-art update of centuries of communications technologies (writing, sound recording, photography, video, telephony) integrated into one highly portable device. 

This is where the disruptive potential of the iPad lies; it’s not in its application in one specific medical domain; rather, it’s the application across all healthcare domains and settings. It’s not in individual product features and the uses they enable; rather, the ways those features are combined. Lastly, it’s not about enabling healthcare professionals to perform this or that task better; rather, it’s about their effectiveness across the board by enabling them to gather and access essential medical information faster, whenever and wherever they need it. 

We’ve been waiting for a revolution in connectivity and information to sweep healthcare – and it appears that the notion of the iPad as the conduit will indeed be rather easy for the industry to swallow.

2 comments on "What Tablets (Now) Mean To Healthcare ".

  1. Jill Wagner from MMI Consulting
    commented on: March 23, 2012 at 1:35 p.m.
    Interesting to read this article just after reading about the privacy issues and the letter sent from Congress on applications pulling data from devices. Wonder if those applications are into HIPPA info?
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: April 3, 2012 at 2:54 p.m.
    Major point, Jill and extremely important. It will become even more important as the tablet is on its way as a diagnostician in applications as well as a medical device with attachments in addition to information for prevention and therapies based on availability. Think more rural and underserved medical communities all over the world as well as the areas in the US.

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