Computers are an undeniable fact of modern medicine. Locked behind the plastic display is a plethora of information vital to running a successful medical practice, hospital or clinic. Fortunately, with the introduction of tablet computers (including the popular iPad), the practice of medicine might never be the same again. In fact, whereas it’s difficult to think of a doctor without his or her stethoscope, now they are just as likely to walk into an examination room carrying one of several different models of pad computers. The advantages of using personal computers have been apparent for several years, but thanks to this most recent development in convenience and portability, the immediate benefits are now at the fingertips of any medical professional.
With a tablet, doctors and other medical professionals can be instantly apprised of a patient’s information and know a person’s medical history, health problems and any treatments they are on without a moment’s notice. Not only that, but with a tablet there’s no shuffling of paper and nothing is lost or misplaced in a file. Further, once a physician is in the room with a patient, taking notes and making records of treatments and plans is a snap; eliminating the need to keep track of separate papers as well as problems with the old nemesis of those in medical transcription—indecipherable handwriting.
While medical professionals have long had access to PDAs and other similar devices their proprietary software did not offer nearly the same level of versatility or compatibility as is currently extant in a tablet. From an IT perspective doctors had few utilities with which to work, limited security features and a near complete lack of adaptive capability. In short, these devices represented little more than glorified day planners, while tablets are literally hand-held computers of nearly limitless potential. For instance, IT professionals using tablets are afforded the luxury of working anywhere at any time and being in constant command of the power to acknowledge problems and act with more haste, more so by far than if they carry a laptop or smartphone. This has led to a rush to provide healthcare professionals with the digital tools they need:
* Epocrates Rx: This regularly updated app allows doctors to access prescribing and safety information for thousands of drugs. Best of all, this app allows doctors to cross-check the interactions of up to 30 different drugs, preventing patients from having adverse reactions from being on multiple medications.
* ATP III Guideline Calculator: Medical professionals can use this application to help them calculate individualized LDL treatment goals using the Adult Treatment Panel III cholesterol guidelines for patients with high cholesterol. In the past, this calculator worked only on a limited number of platforms, but it has now been optimized to work on a variety of tablet devices.
* Johns Hopkins University Antibiotic Guide: This useful and informative application is regularly updated on infectious diseases. Some of its main features include treatment guidelines, diagnostic criteria and a comprehensive list of information about medications and organisms.
* Diagnosaurus: Diagnosaurus is excellent app for doctors who need to diagnose their patients’ symptoms quickly. This software application provides lists of differential diagnoses for various symptoms or diseases and is not only useful for generating ideas about what could be causing a patient’s symptoms, but also reminds doctors of possible alternate diagnoses for a condition. In some cases, it also provides etiologies, or causes of certain entries, such as lactic acidosis.
For healthcare IT, tablets represent a goldmine of potential implementation. Not only do tablets boast a plethora of networking features, but their programming is also relatively hassle-free, as are their publishing applications. Simply put, tablets are 100 percent mobile, network-enabled computers capable of all the functions of a standard desktop system. With the price of the technology soon to fall in the wake of added competition to the iPad and Xoom, there is little reason these devices should remain at the margins of medical technology.
Clearly tablet computers are an excellent option, not only for doctors, but also for the IT systems that support them. Their complete mobility and versatility make them a better mobile option than laptops and PDAs, while their enhanced processing power and larger screens improve their applicability beyond that of other wireless devices.
Patricia Walling is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She has both professional and volunteer experience in a hospital environment and currently resides in Washington state.