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IPad release has health care buzzing, but questions remain

A considerable chunk of the buzz surround the iPad release from Apple Inc. has focused on the device’s purported impact on the health care industry — an industry that has been waiting years for the perfect tablet PC.

Those using the iPad in a clinical setting have fairly positive things to say. Dr. Larry Nathanson at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston used the iPad in the emergency room ; he deemed the screen “gorgeous” and accessed his computerized physician order entry system “without modification,” but he wonders whether the device is durable enough for the ER and, without a true keyboard, struggles to enter strong passwords. Iltifat Husain, a fourth-year medical student at Wake Forest, meanwhile, fit the iPad into the pocket of his white coat and loved the fast upload time but wants to see more health care applications built for the device.

How, then, will the iPad release change health care? For John Chilmark of Chilmark Research, education and doctor-patient communication stand to benefit the most. Without a robust set of applications, it remains to be seen if the iPad is a health care game-changer, he said. Dr. Nicholas Genes of Mount Sinai Hospital by and large agreed, though for him even an incremental approach to using the iPad in a hospital is far better than the clipboards, paper charts and tape recorders that define the status quo.

Those sought-after apps should be coming, in part through a joint mobile health care application development effort between Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. Meanwhile, some apps, such as Mango Inc.’s MangoMed electronic medical record management portal, are available even now.

If apps don’t come fast enough, though, and if doctors get frustrated with not being able to plug anything into the iPad, even a flash drive, health care professionals may gravitate to such devices as the Hewlett-Packard Co.’s HP Slate. (That’s the gist of an iPad discussion at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society LinkedIn page; you’ll need a LinkedIn account to read it.) Here’s hoping that, at the very least, the iPad release turns enough heads to get the health care industry to think about how tablet PCs can effectively change patient care for the better.

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