Can the iPad Cure What Ails Us?

At Texas hospitals, iPads and iPhones sever the desktop computing cord allowing doctors and nurses to spend more time with their patients.

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Fri, June 03, 2011

CIO — A neurology patient at a Texas hospital may soon find doctors handing him an iPad with game-like apps on it to test his motor skills. Nurses will be able to roam bedsides while remotely checking electrocardiograms, or EKGs, on their iPads. Doctors are already sharing medical records on iPads with their peers, in order to discuss patient care.

At Texas Health Resources, a healthcare provider with 24 hospitals, these are just a few ways the iPad will allow clinicians to spend more time with patients. It's a significant break from the traditional hospital setting: Wander around most hospitals in the country and you'll likely see clinicians sitting in chairs at nursing stations staring into computers.

"When we made them start using [desktop] computers and spend hours in front of a screen, we took them away from that context of interacting with other people," says Ferdinand Velasco, M.D., chief medical information officer at Texas Health. "Devices like the iPad and smartphone help get them mobile again."



Clyde Sullivan, M.D., cardiologist, uses the iPad at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital (Allen, Texas).

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Technology critics point to cubicle-filled offices around the country that compel workers into self-imposed solitary confinement. At hospitals, though, the impact of little human contact takes an even darker turn. Consider a patient holed up in a strange room, suffering from severe illness or injury and craving a visit from an assuring nurse or doctor.

At Texas Health, the iPad promises more frequent visits.

Last year, Texas Health launched a formal mobile health strategy, called mHealth, to corral the growing number of mobile devices and apps coming to market. Doctors and nurses at Texas Health, for instance, jumped on the smartphone and tablet bandwagon. A recent Texas Health survey showed two-thirds of doctors have personal smartphones, mostly iPhones. Velasco, who leads the mHealth strategy, estimates up to 40 percent of doctors have an iPad or other tablet.

Other hospitals bear witness to the iPad craze. "We had physicians coming to us as soon as the first iPad came into the Apple (AAPL) Store wanting to connect everything," John McLendon, senior vice president and CIO of AHS Information Services, the IT division of Adventist Health System (AHS), a not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider with 44 hospitals across 10 states, told CIO.com.

A Mobile Health Strategy

One of Velasco's goals this year is to make it compelling for doctors to use their tablets regularly at work. This means finding useful apps on the App Store, jointly developing apps with contractors and vendors, and even building apps in-house.

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