In a previous blog post, we focused on the use of cell phones and smartphones in healthcare, however we cannot ignore the fact that interest in and use of tablets has seen tremendous growth over the last year and continues to gain momentum.  A tablet is a mobile computer, larger than a smartphone or personal digital assistant, which is generally controlled via a touchscreen.  Tablets range from simple black-and-white e-readers, whose function is solely to display e-books, to the Apple iPad which features built-in Wi-fi technology, a powerful camera for photos and video chat, and a 10-hour battery life (not to mention the option of over 275,000 apps).  The tablet appeared to be one of the hottest ‘tech’ gifts this past holiday season1, but it is also gaining in popularity within the healthcare industry.  The 2nd Annual HIMSS Mobile Technology Survey, released in early December 2012, reported that 80% of physicians use a mobile device to directly shape and improve patient care and while laptops and workstations on wheels were the most popular devices, a preference for tablets is on the rise2.

The health-related uses of tablets most commonly discussed in surveys and blogs are: i) note-taking, and ii) virtual physician-patient communication.  Note-taking includes the ability of physicians to more efficiently (and clearly) document patient symptoms and health vitals, in addition to patient use of tablets – to replace check-in forms, for example.  Virtual physician-patient communication represents video chat, sometimes called ‘telerounding’, which not only saves time for physicians but is often preferred by patients over phone calls.  However, there are also  other innovative uses for tablets have emerged recently including the use of tablets as ‘patient guides’ and for customization of an MRI experience3.  The use of a tablet for patient guides means handing over a tablet to a patient, for example upon admittance to a hospital or clinic for a surgical procedure.  In this case the tablet could display a document or video outlining the necessary preparation prior to surgery and the details of post-operation care and recovery.  The tablet could also remain with the patient during recovery time to guide the patient in their daily schedule, helping them keep track of proper health-related behaviours such as medication-taking.  Customization of the MRI experience offers patients the opportunity to choose what they see and hear during their scan, sometimes even allowing for patients’ selection of music or videos from their personal collection, to help ease some of the discomfort and anxiety often associated with the MRI experience.

There are, however, a few important points to remember as the healthcare industry moves forward with incorporating tablets into service delivery.  First of all, some have emphasized that physician use of tablets and other mobile devices during patient interaction cannot and should not ever replace ‘face-time’, and that caregivers need to be aware of when and how they use these devices4.  Patients can be put off by lack of eye contact, for example, and therefore perceive the interaction as less personalized and meaningful (hurting the already strained patient-physician relationship).  On the other side, physicians should be cautious of over-use of mobile devices such that they become crutches, over-shadowing important ‘old-fashioned’ screening methods (e.g., those involving physical contact with patients).  From the tech side, there are obstacles to widespread use of mobile devices that must be addressed such as customization for the elderly and technologically unfamiliar, and usability for those with lower literacy and/or a language barrier.

References:

  1. 1.       DAVID POGUE – Published: November 28, 2012 New York Times

Hot Gift Is a Tablet, but Which to Buy?

  1. Bresnick, Jennifer. HIMSS survey: 80% of clinicians use iPads, smartphone apps to improve patient care.  Author Name Jennifer Bresnick   |   Date December 4, 2012

http://ehrintelligence.com/2012/12/04/himss-survey-80-of-clinicians-use-ipads-smartphone-apps-to-improve-patient-care/

  1. Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 11, 2012  How iPads Improve the Patient Experience.  http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/page-1/MAR-278824/How-iPads-Improve-the-Patient-Experience
  2. Redefining Medicine With Apps and iPads By KATIE HAFNER – Published: October 8, 2012  – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/science/redefining-medicine-with-apps-and-ipads-the-digital-doctor.html?smid=pl-share&_r=0