Will the iPad revolutionize health care? Some questions I haven’t seen discussed.

Twitter’s all atwitter and the bloggers are all a-blogging about what the iPad might mean for this, that or the other. I’m trying to reserve any opinion until I get to play with one and see some apps designed specifically for it, but I’ll write about the potential it may have and some questions I that linger.

Big things it does have: 

  • Relatively large, multitouch display (no surprise here.)
  • Speed.
  • WiFi and 3G.

The big things it doesn’t have:

  • SD or USB docks.
  • Flash support
  • Ability to run 3rd party applications simultaneously (but is rumored to be enabled in the next iPhone OS release.)
  • Camera

That’s all well and good, but the iPhone doesn’t have these (except camera, which is not necessarily what patient want in his/her doctor’s office) and is being adopted widely in health care. The big questions for me are form factor and usability: 

#1. How will people carry it? Will men need a manbag?

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The iPod has taken off with physicians because it’s mobile (fits in a pocket), not just wireless, and it has great medical applications. Even though it has done well, it’s mostly been an accessory to look up information, sometimes to view patient info, not a computer replacement. The iPad represents a strange place in the market for the simple fact that it doesn’t fit in a pocket or strapped to a hip. Will that work for physicians or other mobile workers that are largely on the go?

2. The other big question that I have (and haven’t yet seen discussed) is: What applications does such a big 9.7″ multi-touch enable for medicine? A large multi-touch seems like the perfect fit for physicians that are used to working with paper. We simply have never dealt with a multi-touch screen this large and it will take some pretty creative developers to see what can really be done. Just the ability to move rapidly through high resolution images and forms on a mobile device using your fingers could be the thing physicians have needed in a mobile device. If it’s combined with reference articles, it could be a godsend, and the increased screen size could really help manage more complex information (when, presumably this summer, the release of the next OS and the ability to run multiple applications.) Either way, I’ll await to hear feedback from the test markets.

As I wrote before, I think the killer app could be an EHR that nearly resembles a patient’s actual chart and record. The iPad is designed to be a replacement for paper media: newspapers, magazines, books. What industry is more stuck on paper than health care and is (supposedly) looking for an alternative? (FYI, I do know some of the best developers in this area who would love to take on such a project.)

I’ll wait until I can play with one before I make any judgements, but the potential is there. In the meantime, who’s ready to start building some apps and defining the future?

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