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Why the iPad Matters (For Healthcare)

By THOMAS GOETZ

Thomas goetzIn case you’ve been preserved in amber the past month, there’s been lots of excitement in  technology circles about the iPad – as well as other tablet computers – and how they’ll transform (take your pick): games and word processing and movies and magazines and newspapers and music composition.

But there hasn’t been a great deal said about their possible usefulness in healthcare.

In truth, healthcare has a horrible record with technology. Medical technology, after all, is one of the principle reasons that annual healthcare costs in the U.S. are at $2.5 trillion, and climbing. The CT scan may beguile radiologists and diagnosticians, but it’s also a horribly inefficient technology (it doesn’t scale, there’s no price transparency, etc.). In short, everything that technology is good for in the rest of the universe – lowering costs, reducing expertise – it has exactly the opposite effect in healthcare and medicine.

There have been attempts here or there to introduce consumer-style tools to medicine. Dozens of companies, for instance, offered versions of the Palm Pilot that promised to recognize a physician’s unique needs. But too often these one-off gadgets fell into the wrong quadrant of the efficiency and expense matrix. And the fact that pagers are long dead in every corner of the world except in hospitals serves as yet more proof that healthcare is a bizarro world when it comes to technology.

And consumer-facing tools have fared just as poorly. Fancy set-top boxes that promise to connect patients to their doctors via telemedicine, and cumbersome monitoring devices for people with diabetes or other chronic conditions haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

So: enter the iPad. Does it have a chance?

Yes, and for two reasons. The first is this: In the past healthcare technology has always been about the hardware – building a box that promises to do something, and then trying to educate patients or providers on how to use the box. That hasn’t worked because of bad interface design; the mission was complexity, not simplicity. But the tablets, and the iPad in particular, are designed to be as simple as possible (just one button). They’re not really about the hardware, at all – in fact, if these tools work as promised, the hardware disappears. The device will let users engage with information immediately, without having to negotiate a cumbersome interface. Indeed, the device itself vanishes and the user connects directly with the experience. That’s a powerful shift, and it has great potential for health.

Because the iPad has a multi-touch screen, it becomes an immersive experience, where gestures replace keyboard clicks. The significance of this shift can’t be overstated, and the iPhone has given us a taste (though not the sweep) of what that means. Gestures become visceral, and there’s far less “friction” to the process. For patients and providers alike, this is a huge leap. The learning curve for new devices will pretty much vanish with an iPad, and all sorts of information – scans, charts, home monitoring data – can be engaged with directly.

And that takes me to the second reason the iPad could be transformative: the software. The iPad and other tablet software will have to be simple and intuitive, by design. A keyboard device lets software coders get messy; they can rely on F-keys and keyboard shortcuts to channel readers. But with a touch-centric device, the software will have to work like our brains work – through a series of intuitive motions.

The iPhone app store has done a terrific job introducing a new aesthetic to software, one that’s fluid and fun (albeit walled-off). The iPad and its ilk should only enhance this aesthetic.

So it’s got good hardware and good software. But what’s that have to with healthcare? Well, it seems to me that the iPad – with it’s seamless hardware and intuitive software – will be a terrific way to engage individuals in health information that’s relevant, timely, and meaningful. If the Web excels at delivering general information in massive doses, my hunch is that the tablet will improve the process – in a sort of Information 2.0 way – and the software will tailor and personalize information so that patients can go on fact-finding missions and find relevant facts. IPhone apps like Lose It! and BabyBump are already laying the groundwork for this approach by letting people calibrate their health decisions to their specific circumstances. The iPad et al should be able to do the same, but with a larger more captivating and immersive presence.

I’ll go farther: when the iPad includes a camera – as it inevitably will, down the line – it suddenly will make telemedicine possible. It’ll also make it easier for individuals to track their health records, including images, because we’ll have an easy way to view an interact with our information.

And simplicity is recursive here, so that a simple interface will allow populations that may’ve been intimidated by a computer/keyboard to engage with information technology. Meaning older populations, meaning people with chronic conditions, meaning the population consuming the majority of our healthcare spending. If the iPad can engage these people on better treatment and behaviors, the savings – in terms of dollars and lives – could be radical.

Yes, this is a slightly optimistic forecast – and it’s worth noting that I, like everyone else, hasn’t actually laid hands on a device yet. But the first signs are encouraging. In the tablet computer, instead of a device made by healthcare, we may have a device that works for healthcare. And that distinction could be a world of difference.

Also by this author on THCB – “Why Calculators Are the Future of Healthcare

Thomas Goetz is the author of The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Age of Personalized Medicine. The executive editor at Wired Magazine, you can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/tgoetz.

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Jan Mabusecheap used computersDanDoc99educational portal Recent comment authors
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Jan Mabuse
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Jan Mabuse

What do you think is better? Anuuity vs. Stocks? I got annuities from bankers life insurance & casualty . A Bankers Life thoughts?

cheap used computers
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it would be nice for them to offer an additional level of checked bag service that is insured for complete replacement and which you would pay for.

Dan
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Dan

California Medical Board (MBC) has a massive budgets of Millions of Dollars but this budget is spent to increase the cost of Healthcare delivery and worsen the quality of Healthcare delivery to the PEOPLE. An urgent reform of the Medical Board of California can redirect these funds to benefit the public, healthcare and medical practice in our country and eventually solving the Healthcare Crisis dilemma our country is facing. It is questioned as to how the massive budget of the Medical Board of California is being spent. Many have suggested that the Medical Board of California is not doing what… Read more »

Doc99
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Doc99

No mulitasking. Weak Wi-Fi. No Flash. No webcam. Wait for IPad 2.0

educational portal
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ths definitely is an optimistic take on what iPad might do for healthcare provided people in the group you mentioned (w/chronic conditions, older pop, etc) actually get the device, or at least access to it. I’m not so sure that wil happen.

California Health Insurance
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Thank you very much for this insightful article on the use of the iPad in healthcare applications. All progressive and forward thinking components of the country’s health care delivery system needs to be figuring out ways to use readily available technology to deliver ever higher levels of quality care and client service!

Stephanie
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This might be a revolutionary but costly update. High switching costs in a struggling industry may not be a viable option. But this is a very innovative use of new technologies!
-Stephanie
Follow me @L2_Pharma!

Karow Home Care
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As it is, people are already searching the internet more than going to see their own doctors for solutions. Why? May be due to various factors. Perhaps high cost health insurance, mistrust, etc. The iPad is just another avenue into technology and its combined source of medicine for people. Thanks to Apple.
http://www.karowhomecare.com

The EHR Guy
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I tested using latex gloves on the Droid and on an iPod and I could not observe but a slight difference in operability but nothing significant.
The Panasonic Toughbook has an anti-bacteria coating of some sort (I don’t know all the details but this is what Dr. Val reported at HIMSS10). This would be a necessary feature for the iPad for clinical use.
Just an update to something I mentioned in my previous post.
Thanks,
The EHR Guy

The EHR Guy
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While my visit to HIMSS 2010 I had 2 terrible experiences: First, my Droid was discharged by noon and I left the charger in the hotel room. Then I had to carry my laptop with me which was painful and I had to recharge it several times in the day since I didn’t take spare batteries. Immediately I thought about the iPad. I said to myself: “this is what I need, lighter than a laptop and larger than a Droid phone, it’s the middle lane”. So I will definitely buy one as soon as it hits the market or a… Read more »

Mattias Ganslandt
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Interesting points. In particularly with regards to the importance of software in driving better healthcare. Information technology has the potential to improve efficiency and ultimately allow providers to deliver better healthcare to patients. Some of the major healthcare systems that have got it right are the Hong Kong Health Authority or hospitals such as Asklepios Kliniken in Germany, St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway and Georges Pompidou Hospital in France. It is worth mentioning that standards can play a key role in increasing the ability to implement eHealth solutions more broadly and efficiently, and to get the most out of innovative… Read more »

Wendell Murray
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The iPad is nothing new. Good quality tablets have been around for years. I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad tablet a few years ago. An outstanding product.
PDAs, which are on the smallest end of tablets are too small for anything other than very simple applications. Not that the OS or applications have to be limited. The size of the screen is the issue.

anonymous
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anonymous

Is this a re-post from 3 days ago or was the article changed? Or is the THCB jiggering their headlines for more page views? Say it isn’t so THCB.

ABL
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ABL

Let me open by saying that I agree that the health care sector needs to, and slowly is, migrating towards a better electronic environment. However, I do disagree that the iPad is going to be a silver bullet that is going to suddenly cause a paradigm shift. You neglect to mention that the technology that is included in the iPad has been commercially available for years now. My GP uses a tablet PC for entering notes, tracking things during my wellness visits. You say “when” a camera is available it will make telemedecine possible without acknowledging that it is available… Read more »

john
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Great Article! New horizons have been opened with the new screen size, that will provide a great platform for a “digital clip board”, to be used by professionals while on their feet…