Doctors prescribe iPad Mini - a perfect lab coat fit

Glad that iPad Mini sticks with same interface as its bigger brother

One in three physicians planned to buy the iPad Mini even when its existence was just a rumor, according to a poll of doctors by medical app developer Epocrates.

According to 90% of respondents to the survey, the smaller size of the iPad Mini is their main motivation. The 50 physicians surveyed indicated the iPad Mini will be easier to tote around between exam rooms and on hospital rounds because it fits nicely into the pockets of their lab coats.

Lab coat pockets are 8.5-in. high and 7.5-in. wide. The iPad Mini is 7.87-in. high and 5.3-in. wide.

The use of tablets by physicians for professional purposes almost doubled since 2011, reaching 62% this year, with the iPad as the dominant device. Half of tablet-owning physicians have used their devices at the point of care, according to a study by market research and advisory firm Manhattan Research.

The original iPad offered a lighter, less expensive alternative to the purpose-built tablets that medical personnel had been using, according to IHS iSuppli, a market research firm. The first-generation iPad was popular with physicians even though it lacked a critical feature -- an external camera -- that they very much wanted. The iPad 2 and later model provided the camera, which the medical staff uses to aid in patient care, such as photographing wounds in order to keep a visual record during treatment.

A survey of 3,798 physicians conducted in May last year by QuantiaMD, a mobile and online community of 125,000 physicians, found that access to electronic medical record (EMR) data tops the physician wish-list for how they want to use mobile technology.

More than 80% of physicians responding to QuantiaMD's survey indicated they own a mobile device capable of downloading applications, an adoption rate for smartphones and tablets significantly higher than that of the U.S. population.

Apple products are the clear preference of physicians, according to QuantiaMD's survey. Of the mobile devices purchased by physicians for their private practices, the figures were: iPhone, 59%; iPad, 28%; Android smartphone, 21%; Android tablet, 3%; and Blackberry, 11%. For tablet users, the iPad was virtually alone, with only a fraction of physicians using Android tablets, the survey showed. For physicians who don't own mobile devices, the survey found that 66% are likely to select Apple products.

Dr. Mark Vadney, an anesthesiologist at Jefferson Anesthesia Services in Watertown, N.Y., participated in the Epocrates physician survey. Vadney said he has owned an iPad from "the very first day they came out." He is currently waiting to get the new iPad Mini when it's in stock locally.

"My current iPad is full of medical apps for ultrasound regional anesthesia, anesthesiology textbooks, and medical calculators," Vadney said. "The new iPad Mini is exciting because it will take a bit of the heft away of the current iPad without changing any of the functionality I need from it."

Vadney said the iPad's resolution is "terrific" for ultrasound image evaluation, and from a non-radiologist point of view, the resolution is good enough for his needs.

Along with Epocrates' point of care medical applications, Vadney said his favorite apps are the Kindle's mobile app, which he uses to download anesthesiology textbooks, a pediatric care unit medical calculator that generates tables of recommended medication doses, and an anesthesiology ultrasound app.

Asked what sets the iPad Mini apart from other small tablets, such as the Google Nexus 7 or tablets specifically made for physicians, such as the Motion C5v Tablet, Vadney said -- familiarity.

"I trust and have been happy with the iPad and all of my Apple products. They seem to be well built, deliver what is promised, and have been around for a while, and [Apple continues] to work towards improving the product," he said.

The only drawback to the iPad, Vadney said, is that it's not designed specifically for medical use. For example, iOS lacks a central file management system, so files become associated with specific apps, and it's hard to use files with other apps. Android tablets, meanwhile, do have a central file management system.

Just as with Epocrates' point of care app, other medical app providers, such as Medscape and Skyscape, make their products available on both iOS and Android-based tablets.

Marianne Braunstein, vice president of product management at Epocrates, said the company was excited about the iPad Mini launch because it is another device that supports its healthcare workflow. She said her company's physician clients were particularly happy that Apple kept the iPad user interface rather than using the iPhone's.

"On the iPhone, there are only so many things you can do with the real estate, so physicians may need more tabs to open with that," she said. "The iPad has a larger form factor, so the same information can be presented on the screen even if it's a smaller size."

For example, drug monographs are highly detailed and thoroughly documented studies on drugs that if presented on an iPhone would require a physician to select multiple tabs in order to find an adult or pediatric dosing recommendation.

"Whereas all of that information can be nicely listed in one flow and with one swipe on the iPad," Braunstein said.

Rhoda Alexander, an analyst with market research firm IHS iSuppli, said the iPad Mini provides the functionality healthcare providers need.

While it has a lower number of pixels per inch than the third- or fourth-generation versions of the larger iPad, "the greater portability is likely to outweigh that consideration in this particular purchase decision for many," Alexander wrote in an email to Computerworld.

While IHS hasn't surveyed physicians on the iPad Mini, Alexander said it seems "a natural match" given the early interest in iPhones and the quick adoption of the original iPads by physicians. "The smaller, lighter size has key advantages, allowing staff to keep hands free when not using the tablet while storing it securely ... in an easily available pocket," she wrote.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Read more about tablets in Computerworld's Tablets Topic Center.

Tags IHS iSuppliAppleiSupplihardware systemshealthcare ITtabletsIHS

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