Apple, post-Jobs, unveiled the iPad 3 and will release it this Friday.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm vehemently opposed to Apple products. Why? If you can remember back to the turn of the millennium - pre-iPod days- Apple unleashed the iBook: a poorly designed, pre-Intel core, white doorstop.
My school district, in all its infinite wisdom and deep pockets, decided it would be great for every student in high school to have a laptop to call his own. It was a disaster. The laptops overheated, crashed, failed and burned. Needless to say, this marred my technological experience with Apple, and I'm still recovering from it.
A decade later, more than 30 percent of college students own an Apple computer, and I would guess close to 100 percent own either an iPhone, iPad, iPod or a MacBook - confession, I have an iPod.
So how does this relate to health care? The government mandated all hospitals and medical practices get on board with Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). The government is giving extra reimbursement to early adopters until 2014, after which it will fine organizations for not having EMRs.
I am a huge proponent of this adapt-or-die strategy, as EMRs have been shown to decrease redundant lab draws and thus health care spending, streamline hand-off of care and better organize patient information, which will hopefully improve the care we provide our patients. From any computer terminal, a care provider can access his patient's X-rays, blood tests, EKG, vital signs, what happened at 10:13 p.m. last night, and what another consultant has said about condition X.
This is where - I'm biting my tongue as I say this - an iPad can make improvements. Several institutions across the nation are toying with the idea of integrating iPads into clinical practice, providing medical practitioners access to patients' records on the go. This could be advantageous in a multitude of ways.
It looks like "Lord of the Flies" in the wards at times, with doctors, students, nurses and other ancillary staff battling for computers. Having an iPad tucked away in your bag so you can whip it out whenever you want for a quick lab check or order entry can, and will, expedite patient care.
Not only will iPads increase accessibility, they can also greatly facilitate learning and information access on the go. It is typical for physicians to ask for real-time updates on lab work or up-to-date information on treatment of COPD, only to find the intern or medical student scrambling to the nearest computer terminal. To have hundreds of textbooks and thousands of resources at your finger tips is an incredible convenience and encourages impromptu learning.
iPads can also create learning opportunities for patients and their families. Instead of telling them about medical conditions, we can show them. The advent of programs such as Google Body, VisualDx and a plethora of other medical applications allows providers to offer patients visiual representations of their anatomies, diseases and cures.
Finally, the webcam features in iPads can facilitate a new branch of medicine which is rapidly developing: telemedicine. The idea is to provide care without being in the physical presence of the patient. With the large geographic area which the University oversees, patients often drive four or five hours just to see us for less than an hour. While there is no replacing the human touch, there is also no replacing convenience.
Many diagnoses and treatment options can be instituted on the phone or through video. One recent study found more than 70 percent of patients who had a telemedicine appointment with a dermatologist were correctly diagnosed and assessed.
Integrating iPads into medical practice is not a novel idea. Yale's medical school currently provides all its students with iPads for educational purposes, and Harvard has created a set of applications specifically designed for its medical students. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching affiliate of Harvard, is also working to implement tablet computers into its daily clinical practice.
Though I may be biased against Apple products, I have to give the company a nod for creating such a simple device which has the potential to improve the way medicine is practiced across the board.
Jeff Yu is a University medical student. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.