iPad setback at Seattle Children's is but a minor growing pain

By Neil Versel
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Neil VerselWhen Apple introduced the iPad in January 2010, Steve Jobs (R.I.P.) called the touch-screen tablet "magical and revolutionary." The word "magical" appeared in an Apple commercial a few months later when iPads first hit—and flew off the shelves of—stores.

The pace at which healthcare professionals, particularly physicians, have embraced the iPad is nothing short of revolutionary, too. More than 30 percent of U.S. doctors now own one, according to both Manhattan Research and Chilmark Research. Apple itself has said that more than 80 percent of the "top hospitals" (whatever that means) in the U.S. are using iPads.

But as the Gartner hype cycle has shown time and again, the initial excitement inevitably wanes as growing pains crop up. That's starting to happen with the iPad in medicine.

As CIO magazine reported last week, iPads failed miserably in a test at Seattle Children's Hospital. "Every one of the clinicians returned the iPad, saying that it wasn't going to work for day-to-day clinical work," CTO Wes Wright was quoted as saying. "The EMR apps are unwieldy on the iPad."

Granted, Seattle Children's made its doctors access the Cerner EMR not through a native iPad app but via the Safari Web browser. Certain elements of the EMR were designed for viewing on 21-inch monitors, not the 9.7-inch iPad. (Come to think of it, this is the same reason Independa offers a 22-inch touch-screen desktop PC as an alternative to its much smaller Android tablet for its home-health monitoring system.)

According to the CIO story, the iPad just doesn't work well as a Citrix emulator. Cerner reportedly is working on optimizing its EMR for the iPad in a way that will only display the most pertinent information in read-only format, but that approach has obvious limitations.

No, the iPad isn't ideal in every healthcare situation. It's not exactly practical or safe for a surgeon to be toting a tablet after scrubbing up for a procedure. Office-based physicians don't need to have a portable device with them at all times if there's a PC in or just outside the exam room for charting and quick reference.

Tablets do seem like they would be perfect for rounding in hospitals or for physicians who are on the go. And they might still be under certain conditions.

What is important to remember here is that for all its success, the iPad is less than two years old. It's been barely 10 weeks since Apple even organized all the apps for healthcare professionals into a dedicated section of the iTunes App Store. All this stuff is new, and it's uncharted territory.

Not everything will work as planned, and not every function is best rendered on a handheld device. But we won't know until people try, and that's what Seattle Children's did. It seems as if that hospital's work is helping Cerner improve its product, so not all was lost with the exercise.

Hospitals, keep experimenting with ways to make healthcare data more mobile. It's early in the game, and one minor setback won't stop the momentum. The revolution is going to take time.

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