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Ayesha Salim (US) - iPad Mini: A Win for Doctors and Patients?

IDG Connect research shows that 97% of US IT professionals think consumer devices like the iPad has a positive impact on medical practices. However, when asked if they thought IT security is a significant concern in the use of hand held medical devices; 58% saw it as a substantial threat. So what does all this mean for healthcare?

The new iPad mini has physicians buzzing with excitement. According to a poll of doctors by Epocrates, one in three physicians planned to buy the iPad Mini even when its existence was just a rumor. And for good reason. The smaller-size means they can carry it to exam rooms and easily slide it into their lab coats. The physicians also get the best of both worlds; the familiar functionality of the first generation iPad with the added benefit of portability. So why are healthcare IT leaders concerned? iPads and related mobile technologies are transforming healthcare for the better right?

It is not hard to see the attraction behind tablets. Tablets change the way information is accumulated and stored. They solve bad handwriting and unlike laptops, tablets are considered less intrusive in physician-patient interactions. Recent surveys have indicated roughly 80% of doctors use mobile devices, and between 40% and 50% are using tablets.

The proliferation of gadgets has given clinicians - especially young ones - new ways of diagnosing symptoms and treating patients. More importantly, it has redefined the relationship between doctor and patient. It might be thought that using an iPad creates a distance between doctor and patient. Not so, according to Lennox Hoyte, MD, director of obstetrics and gynecology. Lennox says using the iPad means he's actually "seeing" his patients, rather than talking to them over his shoulder as he tries to type information into a desktop computer. In other words, it can be argued that using a tablet device, such as the iPad actually increases patient satisfaction rather than decreasing it.

Moreover, many doctors are integrating iPads into practicing medicine. St. Mary's Health Care System is collaborating with the University of Georgia's College of Education on a yearlong study to see how iPads can be used in medical settings on a daily basis. Initial research results show that the majority of iPad users - both physicians and students - have embraced the use of iPads, and that patients have liked being able to see their own X-rays and lab results at their bedside.

Patient education is one reason physicians prefer to use smartphones or the iPad in the exam room. The more the patient understands their disease, the more they're going to be invested in getting better because they understand why it's happening to them.

John Cox, CEO of Visible Health, notes that "somewhere around the order of 80% of all information communicated between a physician and a patient is lost when a patient walks out of the room." With special software, physicians can create personalized diagrams to explain tumors and other injuries without needing to take out a sketch pad and pencil. The diagram can be printed or emailed afterward, or added to the patient's medical record, ensuring that the patient can retain the information and its context.

On the surface, you could make the argument that the positives of using consumer devices like the iPad in healthcare far outweigh the negatives. Our survey of 111 US IT professionals shows that a whopping 97% believe devices like the iPad has a positive impact on medical practices. Yet there is a caveat, and an important one at that, as 58% still see these devices as a substantial security threat. So why are these devices seen as a threat?

Firstly, there is the issue of storing unencrypted patient health information on the device. What happens if the tablet gets stolen? In a report conducted by BizTechReports, Panasonic challenges the iPad's suitability for healthcare, citing security, durability and compliance with Electronic Health Records (EHR) as top-of-mind issues for many of the 100 executives and IT professionals in the healthcare field who participated in the survey.

Then of course there is patient confidentiality. The Medical Protection Society is concerned that doctors are accessing patient information in public places with insufficient security. Visibility of screens is risky in public places where any passerby could see patient data. And what about family members sharing the personal tablet device at home? Insufficient password protection or no encryption poses major security concerns.

Finally, how is all this technology impacting, what some might argue, to be the heart of the issue? The traditional relationship between doctor and patient. No matter how much efficiency technology brings us, it cannot substitute for intuition and compassion. With the advent of all this technology, could the core human connection between doctor and patient be lost?

For instance, what happens if the doctor gets distracted by his screen and forgets to check one vital thing: his patient? Physician and Writer Abraham Verghese says that if we shortcut the physical exam and go straight to tests instead of talking to and examining the patient - we are not only overlooking simple diagnoses that can be diagnosed at an early treatable stage - we are losing much more than that. We are losing a ritual. The powers of the human hand to touch, comfort, treat and diagnose.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. We must not forget that patients are just as varied in their preferences for technology as their doctors. Some of us are impatient and would love to have a doctor who is a technology mastermind. And some of us are more old-fashioned, preferring a doctor that is not as technology efficient but more attentive.

But there is one thing that perhaps we can all agree upon. A good doctor is one that is attentive to the patient and not distracted by a computer screen. A doctor that sits down, patiently listens, and makes our health problems feel special. Like Dr. Heineken says, a doctor's "first reflex should be to look at the patient, not the computer." We are not ‘iPatients'. Nor will we ever want to be.

By Ayesha Salim, Copywriter, IDG Connect

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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