Obstacles To Using Tablets As EMR Front Ends

Not long ago, I recently posted an item on HospitalEMRandEHR.com discussing how one hospital dropped plans to distribute iPads as front-ends for its Cerner EMR.  Doctors at hospital, Seattle Children’s, gave the iPad very bad reviews as an EMR-connected device, in part because they felt that Cerner’s system was too hard to use via a Safari browser.

Since then, a few readers have commented on the story, and interestingly, they’ve offered more nuanced feedback on what works (and doesn’t) in deploying a tablet as an EMR device for clinical use, including the following:

* Deploying the iPad initially offers a patient “wow factor” — in other words, it may make providers look hip and up-to-date technically — but that doesn’t last very long.

* Even a well-designed, tablet-native tablet app may still be frustrating for clinicians to use, given the high volume of information they need to enter. (Paging through a dozen screens is no fun.)

* When choosing a tablet, be aware that the physical performance of the tablet (especially the touch screen) can be a big issue.  If clinicians “touch” and the screen doesn’t respond, it can throw them off their stride.

It’s hard to argue that hospitals (and medical practices) should take mobile access to EMRs seriously. And anyone here would know, most organizations are.  After all, now that health IT industry is looking hard at mHealth, smart new ways to use mobile devices in care seem to be springing up daily.

But before you dig too deeply into your mobile strategy, you may want to hear more clinicians on how their mobile EMR usage is playing out. Call me a curmudgeon, but it seems to me that it may still be too early to invest big bucks in a tablet for mobilizing your EMR just yet.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m convinced that someday, every doctor will enter and access patient data via some sort of mobile device. But it seems that there’s some fairly important technical issues that still need to work themselves out before we can say “this is how we should do it.”

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Don’t write off all tablets! There are different types of tablets and some are excellent devices that are designed specifically for the type of input needed in healthcare work. The iPad and others like it are geared towards consumer use and are predominantly output devices – surfing the web, watching movies, etc. Tablets such as Motion Computing and Panasonic have healthcare specific models and work with a digital pen than allow clinicians to handwrite with a digital pen, the handwriting converts to typing in the electronic medical record. These tablets work extremely well in healthcare; you just have to select the right one.

  • In one of the Dallas Based chain of hospitals, we had developed and deployed ipad based native solution and it is doing good.
    I saw your article was in 2011, Its now 2013,where doctors have also done surgery with tablet assisting them via augmented reality. It would be very helpful if you can give some specific user scenarios where you find tablet not meeting expectations.

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