Briefing: Using the iPad in health care

Anne Steciw, Assistant Editor

Although tablet computers and netbooks have been around for many years, the debut of Apple Inc.'s iPad in 2010 stirred a lot of excitement -- and some angst -- in the health care industry. Hospitals and providers are testing iPad use in emergency rooms, exam rooms and waiting rooms. Health care CIOs are trying to determine whether this consumer device can be integrated into the hospital network without breaking any privacy or security rules. Competitors are getting their own devices on the market, some offering features important to the health care industry that the iPad lacks.

This guide answers common questions about iPad use in a health care environment, and takes a look at other tablet devices that might compete with it. It is part of's Briefings series, which is designed to give IT leaders strategic guidance and advice that addresses the management and decision-making aspects of timely topics.


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What are the iPad's prospects as a tool for health care?

The iPad has been a popular device with health care providers. This is not too surprising, as doctors, nurses and other practitioners have been using the iPad's older sibling, the iPhone, for several years, for everything from voice recording to clinical data entry. Many argue that the iPad's larger screen sets the stage for even more clinical uses.

The device has also proven popular in medical academia: The Stanford University School of Medicine put an iPad into its welcome package for all incoming students as part of a pilot program to test the use of digital textbooks. While the iPad might not be the hands-down winner for health care, it's definitely a strong contender.

Learn more about the iPad's effect on health care. Also:

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What are the iPad's pros and cons in a health care setting?

Like any device, the iPad has pros and cons associated with its use in health care.

Several characteristics explain the rapid pace of iPad adoption among health care providers:

  • The iPad is roughly the same size as patient charts.
  • It has a large screen that can be used to share information with patients.
  • The price makes it affordable for physicians.
  • It can run all the medical apps available on the iPhone.
  • It can be used to enter data into EHR and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems.

On the other hand, problems associated with iPad use in health care include the following:

  • It might not be durable enough.
  • It is difficult to disinfect.
  • It does not run Flash, the Adobe Systems Inc. platform on which the majority of the Web's video is developed.
  • It does not a have USB port, though it does have a proprietary 30-pin dock connector to USB cable.
  • It supports only AirPrint-enabled printers.
  • Its free-form factor could give rise to ergonomic issues and security breaches -- though these issues could arise with the use of any tablet device.

Find out more about why the iPad's release has health care buzzing. Also:

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Can hospital IT networks support iPad use?

Some health care CIOs are getting inundated with requests to support iPad use. The wildly popular iPhone has already made inroads into the corporate world. This has paved the way to some extent for network support of iPad adoption. However, some IT administrators argue that iPads and iPhones, and their thousands of apps, cannot be centrally managed, thus opening the door for security breaches.

Virtualization could be the answer to some of the iPad's network support problems. Citrix Systems Inc. used an iPad to access a Windows 7 environment even before the device was released. The iPad has definite potential as a thin client, but any health care organization looking to support it must adhere to all the standard measures for enterprise security, especially if the device will be used to access patient data.

Learn more about corporate IT support for the iPad. Also:

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Can iPads be used with an electronic health record (EHR) system?

Many health care providers would love to use an iPad to access their EHR system, but this often is easier said than done. Vendors have been slow to develop native iPad EHR applications and in the meantime, most iPad users have to settle for "terminal" setups that function like desktop-sharing applications.

Entering data into an EHR system using the iPad also has been a challenge for some providers, who find the touch-screen keyboard difficult to use for data entry. Some EHR vendors are trying to overcome this obstacle by creating an iPad-friendly interface for their software that minimizes the need for typing.

One vendor, ClearPractice LLC, has developed an iPad EHR system using the Software as a Service model. Other EHR vendors are likely to put the iPad on their list of supported devices as well.

Find out more about using the iPad to access EHR systems. Also:

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Which other tablet devices target health care?

Apple's iPad isn't the only tablet computer vying for health care market share. A number of competitors have come out of the woodwork that offer a range of devices with features not available on the iPad.

  • Dell Inc. -- which partnered with the American Medical Association -- offers the Streak, which is powered by the Google Inc. Android operating system and is smaller than the iPad.
  • The Cisco Cius has two cameras and integrates with Cisco’s collaboration and communication applications. It could be used for telemedicine services.
  • Motorola Inc.'s MC-75A0-HC, an enterprise digital assistant, has a bar-code scanner and targets nurses and other point-of-care providers who demand more ruggedness than the iPad provides.
  • The Hewlett-Packard Co. Slate also is more rugged than the iPad, and specifically targets the business market.
  • Most recently, Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, has introduced the PlayBook, a 7-inch tablet device that can sync with a BlackBerry phone and can be used for video conferencing.

See what other competitors are jumping into the iPad tablet computer market. Also:

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More resources

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This guide was updated in April, 2012 to reflect that the iPad no longer lacks a camera and supports some printers, and to include additional links to resources.

Let us know what you think about the briefing; email Anne Steciw, Associate Editor or contact @Steciw on Twitter.

This was first published in February 2011

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