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The iPad is out, but its effect on health care remains unclear

It was a busy weekend — Christians celebrated Easter Sunday, the Red Sox beat the Yankees and Apple released the iPad. For consumers at least, the iPad seems to be a winner, as early iPad reviews brim with excitement about its speed and portability.

For health care professionals, who seem to comprise a significant chunk of iPad buyers, the jury remains in deliberation. Many who spoke to a HealthLeaders Media reporter in San Diego talked about trying it out for eye exams; electronic health record, or EHR, systems; imaging and patient consent forms.

The operative word, though, is “try,” for two key reasons. Though existing iPhone applications will work on the iPad, any and all clinical applications for the iPad itself remain in development. More importantly, Citrix Systems’ Florian Becker suggests that using the iPad for health care may backfire because the device is fragile, not to mention unwieldy: “The physician or nurse carries the device in one hand, uses the other to try and interact with the [user interface], and thus doesn’t have a hand to interact with or touch the patient.”

For what it’s worth, Becker sees clinical apps for the iPad emerging soon, especially because the iPad’s high-resolution screen makes it ideal for viewing images. Meanwhile, one physician, Dr. Joseph Kim, has gone so far as to suggest that the iPad should be mandatory in medical school because it could encourage interactive learning that’s difficult with a textbook and of course, would get students used to the iPad.

Clearly, the iPad is not short of devotees: Apple sold 300,000 iPads on Saturday, eclipsing first-day sales figures for the original iPhone (though the latter, in addition to being more expensive, required a two-year AT&T contract). But it remains to be seen whether the iPad becomes the tablet that turns health IT on its head.

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