Tablets like the Apple iPad are becoming increasingly popular tools to access electronic health records in busy hospital settings. With the same form factor as paper, peripheral-free data entry, and easy portability, these mobile devices may improve interactions with patients and simplify workflow. Two papers presented at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) symposium in Chicago provided evidence from working physicians about the iPad’s popularity and use.
The iPad piqued interest in hospitals almost immediately after its release. Physicians at two Minneapolis-St. Paul emergency departments even told IT staff in 2010 that they would not use EHRs at all unless they were available on the iPad. “Any physician will swear by the fact that EMRs slow them down,” said the lead author of one of the studies, Akhil Rao, a clinical analyst at HealthEast Care System in St. Paul. But since 85% of the physicians Rao surveyed already owned an iPad and were familiar with its capabilities, they believed the device would not only smooth their interaction with the EHR, but improve communication and make them appear cutting edge to their patients. Since most emergency department visits last little longer than 8 minutes, efficiency is key. “The patient-physician interaction was paramount, of great importance to them,” Rao said.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of tablets is that they free the physician from reliance on a stationary desktop computer, eliminating the need to leave the patient to access EHR files in a different room or hallway. While there is little quantitative evidence so far, some of the clinicians also noted that the solid state iPad is easy to disinfect and may reduce the spread of germs since they don’t contain fans to blow contaminants around the patient’s room.
In a second study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, iPads were used frequently by residents attending rounds: 90% of residents reported referring to their iPads, since they are unable to leave their attending physician to use a PC elsewhere. “That is the time physicians are truly mobile,” noted Dr. Colin Walsh, Columbia internist and postdoctoral fellow. “The reality is they’re spending a lot of time interacting with the electronic health record.”
Tablets were often used to review documentation and check lab results, Dr. Walsh reported. A majority of the 62 medical residents who took part in the survey said that they answered clinical questions at the point of care with their iPads, although only 18% said they used them daily.
The popularity of the iPad and other mobile devices will only increase as EHR applications become more integrated with smartphones and tablets. “It’s one step closer to their ideal workflow,” Rao said, speaking to the goal of all clinical systems. Tablets are here to stay: a compact, portable, and intuitive way to access patient records is invaluable to physicians, and may become the natural next step in the continued evolution of the EHR.