Physicians Are Top iPad Adopters. Here's Why

January 17, 2011
Ed Rabinowitz

Conventional wisdom says physicians tend to lag behind when it comes to adoption of new technology -- just not when it comes to the iPad. Surveys show the healthcare industry is one the top adopters of iPad useage on the job. Physicians says the device's mobility, flexibility, ease-of-use and educational attributes are a few of the many reason iPads are showing up in more exam rooms.

Conventional wisdom says physicians tend to lag behind when it comes to adoption of new technology. Oh, really? Not when it comes to the Apple iPad. According to data from Good Technology, a Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of multiplatform enterprise mobility, healthcare is among the Top 3 industries in iPad usage. Lianna Lawson, DO, a Daleville, Va.-based solo practitioner, is not surprised.

“Many physicians are resistant to change, for lots of reasons,” says Lawson, who uses the iPad extensively in her practice. “But if you have something that looks, feels and acts similar to a paper chart, it’s definitely, in my opinion, going to make physicians more comfortable.”

Comfortable enough to jump-start electronic medical records (EMR) adoption? “I agree 100 percent,” says Charles Antonini, MD, a California-based internist who has been using the iPad in his practice for the past year. “If someone can come up with a program that can be integrated with the capabilities of the iPad, and can be easy to use like other apps, I think many more doctors would be receptive and accepting of using EMRs with the iPad.”

EMR Apps at the Ready

Joel Andersen is president of ClearPractice, a St. Louis-based provider of web-based EMR and revenue cycle management software. When the iPad debuted, Andersen and his staff recognized the potential advantages the new hand-held tablet offered, but they also realized they couldn’t simply take their existing browser-based EMR solution and mimic it on the iPad. Several iterations later, and with some helpful hints from Apple’s lead user interface guru, Nimble, an EMR for the iPad, was born.

“Doctors will come up to us at a trade show and say, ‘Oh, you just made [Nimble] compatible for the iPad,’ and we say, ‘No, this is a native iPad application, built specifically for the iPad,’” Andersen says. Most don't understand what that means, he adds, because there aren’t many other native EMR products on the marketplace.

Nimble isn't just a mobile EMR, Andersen says. Instead, it's like having a doctor’s full chart room in the iPad, that can be securely connected anywhere and used for any purpose. He envisions physicians using it in the exam room, in front of patients, or sitting bedside at the hospital to document a patient encounter.

iPad as Educational Tool

Dr. Antonini describes himself as “an older physician” who’s been in practice for close to 31 years; someone who was not brought up in the computer age. “The computer I had as a kid was an Etch-a-Sketch,” he laughs. He originally purchased the iPad thinking it would be helpful from an educational perspective for both he and his patients, but has grown to the point where, “I basically have it on all the time, and I’m always referring to it.” A strong believer in preventive medicine, Antonini will sit side-by-side with patients and use the iPad to help them understand their disease, and why he’s suggesting certain forms of therapy.

Lawson does the same. She participated in the beta testing of the Nimble product, then purchased an iPad and added Nimble to her practice in September 2010. “I always worked for companies that used paper charts,” Lawson says. “When I looked into opening this practice, I just felt that EMRs were the future of healthcare, so I decided it would be much easier to start with EMRs as opposed to paper charts. The nice thing about the iPad is it has the feel of a paper chart, similar in bulk and a little smaller, actually.”

Lawson says she will sit side-by-side with her patients and review their labs, review prior notes, and a rapport develops. Previously, when she would bring her laptop into the exam room, she found it difficult to make eye contact while sitting and typing on the keypad. “I really didn’t want my patients to feel I was more focused on the computer than on them,” she explains. “With the iPad, I will frequently sit beside the patient so they can see what I’m doing. It makes them more comfortable, and to me that’s important.”

As "Nimble" as a Doctor Has to Be

According to Andersen, approximately 15% of current ClearPractice customers have purchased an iPad, and he forecasts that as high as 90% of future customers will do the same.

“Today’s physician is extremely busy,” Andersen says. “Their time is compressed, particularly in primary care. What we wanted to do was create tools that will enable them to provide optimal care no matter where they are, at any given time. That’s why we call it Nimble. We have to be as nimble as the doctor has to be."