Apples, Blackberries and Robots, Oh My!

What smart device should you use as your electronic medical bag: Apple, Blackberry, or Android?

Writing medical application reviews for MDNG has allowed me to take a very critical look at the new age of accessing medical knowledge with technology. In these reviews I use the phrase ‘electronic medical bag’ to describe these devices, because of the daily usefulness they can provide. With the advent of medical applications, a smartphone or tablet is almost necessary for the new generation of health care professionals and can be a useful tool to even the most seasoned of physicians. These devices are compact and can give us access to more information than could fit in the pockets of our white coats. However, the competition is varied, new devices seem to pop up every day, and with the introduction of tablets, the decision on what to get can be very difficult and time consuming. If you haven’t delved into purchasing a smartphone or tablet yet and are timid about testing the waters, you have come to the right place. Here, I will provide a little assistance to those just jumping into the arena of portable medical resource devices.

First off, it is only right to mention that there are other devices available that also achieve similar goals as these three. Microsoft has their Windows 7 phone and with their partnership with HP will be delivering the Slate tablet. HP will have the Pre3 (originally developed through Palm) and the follow-up TouchPad running webOS. The reason why I am excluding these products from this post is a simple reason of familiarity. Microsoft has been absent from the smartphone game for a while and is just now starting to regain steam, and the offerings from HP are not yet available for a comparison. Future posts may be written about their usefulness as medical devices, but for now, we will stick with the big three.

For those of you who already have an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone and are considering getting one of the new tablets on the market, the quickest and most reliable method of choosing which tablet to get is easy: stay with your brand. Apple has the iPad, Blackberry has the Playbook, and Android has the Xoom. You will already be familiar with the operating system and interface, although they might differ slightly from the phone to be adapted for a bigger screen. If this is your first entrance into the exciting world of smartphones and tablets, the decision then to make is, “Which one do I get?”. For those new to the game, choosing a device is based on two things:

1. Price

2. Features

Price: Basically you are going to pay the same amount for each of these devices. The smartphones have contracts with cellular network carriers and the prices of the devices are subsidized through these contracts. Expect to pay $200-$400 for the smartphone with a contract running from $60-$100 a month, depending on phone service options and data usage. If you are in the market for a tablet, expect $400-$900 for the tablet and $30-$40 for cellular data access, or free for wifi access.

Features: This is where the lines are drawn. Having used devices offered by each of these companies, I can tell you that the interfaces are all very different and the ease of use is just as varied. The best way to see the difference is to head to an AT&T or Verizon store and check out each of the devices for yourself. Get an idea of how easy it is to open applications and navigate through the operating system. Notice the different build qualities of the products. Apple and Blackberry have their own software and hardware, whereas Android is software that runs on different manufacturers hardware. This results in consistent build quality of Apple and Blackberry devices, with a range of quality with the Android devices. You will immediately be aware of all of the differences, but here is my simple rundown of each of the devices:

Apple: (iPhone 4)

- very intuitive interface

- solid build quality

- requires some knowledge of using a computer for downloading iTunes for activation

- great customer support

- Apple App Store is very expansive with great support for medical applications

Blackberry: (Storm2, Curve, Bold)

- moderate difficulty with learning the software

- great e-mail functionality

- each of the devices have a good build quality

- self contained with no need to use a computer

- Blackberry App World is functional but not as impressive as the Apple or Android offerings

Android: (Motorola Droid X, HTC Incredible, Samsung Galaxy S, many others)

- most difficult learning curve for new users

- many customizable functions and interactions with computers

- great synchronization with Google applications

- build quality depends on the hardware manufacturer

- Android Market is as expansive and as reliable as the Apple App Store

My recommendation: I’m sure I will get some flack for generalizing this statement but, . . . “buy Apple”. I have an Apple iMac computer, an Apple iPhone and an Apple iPad tablet, and I like them because they are simple to use. If you are someone who is very comfortable with computers and likes customization, you may prefer the Android devices, and if you like the look and feel of the Blackberry, you won’t be disappointed either. Android is the biggest competitor to Apple right now, but to compare the two really is like comparing “apples to oranges”. However, if you are new to the smartphone/tablet game, save yourself a lot of time and frustration and just go get an iPhone or an iPad. The interface is ridiculously simple, placing all of the emphasis around applications and the customer support is the best out of the bunch. Each of the devices from these companies share a lot of the same medical applications, but it seems as though more applications are created for the Apple devices first, then released onto the others secondarily. Another point to mention is that if you don’t need the phone capabilities of an iPhone, and are not interested in the larger size of the iPad, you can get the iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone. These range in price from $230-$400 with no contract.

I admit that I am a little biased because of the great experiences I have had with Apple products, but the main point to convey is the amazing utility allof these devices offer a medical professional. The ability to sit by the bedside of an injured athlete, open the SCAT2 (sports concussion assessment tool) application, get immediate results and e-mail them to the team physician, all from one device is incredibly efficient. These programs have had such a great impact that the FDA is now approving some of them for use as regulated diagnostic aids. This kind of incorporation of technology and medicine is interesting and downright fun, but is it effective? How do we gage the impact of using these devices to improve patient health? Are we spending too much time using these devices, and not enough time with the patients? These advancements cannot be ignored, and I believe they will serve a very important role in the diagnosis and treatment of our patients’ conditions. However, it seems like we, the ‘NextGen Physicians’, are so focused on “what is the new diagnostic test”, that we are forgetting that medicine is not based around the disease, but around the patient.

Please comment below with any kind of feedback. I’m new to medicine and to blogging, and if there is a specific topic you would like me to address from the perspective of ‘The NextGen Physician’, I would be happy to start a conversation. Thank you for reading.