The Doctor’s Best Use of the Tablet

I recently reviewed the Epocrates 2013 Mobile Trends report.  The study has a somewhat unusual participant profile, consisting only of primary care, 3 medical specialties and no surgical specialties; nonetheless the observations are probably close to the mark and are consistent with my experience with my first tablet a couple of years ago.

I purchased an iPad within a couple of months of the introduction of the first model thinking it was perfect for EMR use in my office.  I abandoned it after a couple of months when I discovered several shortcomings.  First, the first iPad was too heavy to hold by the edge and had to be held by a fully supinated hand (totally flat palm facing up).  Try that for 5 minutes and see how your forearm feels.  The first iPad was also too big to put in a physician’s white coat pocket.  And the screen resolution of the first iPad models was not good enough to display a busy EMR screen.   But the biggest drawback was that the early remote desktop apps did not work very well.

The iPad mini addresses all four of these issues.   The Mini is small enough to fit in a white coat pocket with the standard magnetic cover in place.  It is easily and comfortably held by its edge.  It needs a Retina screen badly but the display is better than the original iPad and is (barely) adequate for my 50-year-old eyes to see.   And remote desktop apps have come a long way.  It appears that similar advances have been made in tablets from other manufacturers as well.

I was therefore surprised to learn from the Epocrates study that although a majority of providers (53%) use tablets for patient care related activities, only a small portion (2%) use tablets for actual patient care record keeping in an EMR.  So I thought it would be interesting to outline my current methods of using a tablet that put me in the 2% category as well as the 53%:


  • Entering data into my EMR via a Remote Desktop app.  There are important lessons here.  Don’t expect to stick a tablet in the physician’s hand and have it work like magic.  Our office workflow is designed to optimize the physician / tablet combination.  I use the tablet for only 2 data fields in EMR:  assessment and coding (CPT and ICD).  The office staff enters all the other parts of the note and initiates treatment workflow through the EMR at the physician’s direction.  After the patient is seen I review all parts of the note (on a laptop or desktop), make additions / corrections, and sign it.
  • Cloud based voice-to-text.  This takes the tablet from merely useful to spectacular. There are 3 characteristics of Apple’s built-in cloud-based speech recognition that make it comparable to the Dragon software I have used in various forms for over 10 years:  1.  It is embedded seamlessly into the soft keyboard, 2.  An inexpensive external microphone plugged into the headphone /microphone jack raises transcription accuracy tremendously, and 3.  It works well with Remote Desktop, eliminating the need for a “dictation box” or other similar workaround.  These attributes make up for its most serious drawback, the lack of a medical (or at least customizable) vocabulary.  At the moment I have the right people talking to each other to address that problem.
  • Hospital EMR.  Our hospital is still in the implementation phase of a new Cerner system.  I am still learning the system myself but my initial experience using the system on my tablet using Citrix Receiver has been very positive.
  • Patient education.  LUMA, a product of Eyemaginations, is a very nice product for showing surgical patients the complex head and neck anatomy of their diagnosis and/or proposed surgical procedure.  There are both online and iPad versions available.  I can switch back and forth between EMR and LUMA without losing the Remote Desktop connection.
  • Medical imaging.  I can’t load an image disk directly onto my tablet but I can load it onto my desktop and take a photo with my tablet to review relevant images with patients.  I have tinkered with some apps that allow me to draw on the image to help educate patients.  Still looking for a way to conveniently reduce the file size to facilitate copy-pasting into EMR notes.
  • Literature searches in the exam room.  Not glamorous but helpful, most commonly to review medication side effects.


I think that is a pretty complete use of the tablet for the physician.  No doubt new uses will appear before long.


About the author

Dr. Michael Koriwchak

Dr. Michael Koriwchak

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations.
Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia.
With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.


  • Hi Mike,
    Excellent analysis that even the “unitiated” can understand. Your sharing this type of information can save physicians and staff hours of research and help them make wise decisions without wasting time and money.

  • I also saw a doctor who used an iPad to show things like a diagram of an eye (to explain what was happening when a patient was diagnosed with an eye disease) or photos/videos of how to do things like put in contacts and administer eyedrops yourself. Those are all things that are really helpful for patients, especially when you have patients that don’t really understand what is happening.

  • I would definitely agree that presently the use of the Tablets by physicians is majorly for patient care related activities rather than actual patient care record keeping in an EHR; however the situation is very likely to improve soon with the upcoming generations of even smarter Tablets and amazingly useful Healthcare Apps for Tablets.
    The best tablet from a Physician’s usability point of view should be compact enough to fit in a white coat pocket, lightweight to be held easily by its edge without straining the hand and equipped with a crisp and clear screen. Smart and useful Healthcare Apps like Remote Desktop, LUMA for Patient education etc. are excellent boons.
    Clinical workflow can be optimize with the physician + tablet + Staff + Laptop or Desktop combination. Cloud based voice-to-text functionality in a Tablet embedding seamlessly into the soft keyboard raises transcription accuracy tremendously and coupled with Apps like Remote Desktop completely suffice physicians Transcription needs. Various Application for Tablets allowing drawings on the images for educating patients and “Literature Searches” on the go helps physicians perfectly.

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