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VOL. 126 | NO. 73 | Thursday, April 14, 2011

Medical Breakthrough

Health care providers hope iPad can enhance their services

By Aisling Maki

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The fourth and final in a series about how the iPad is revolutionizing local business.

Dr. Ken Robertson of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is testing a new mobile application that allows him to access patient medical records from his iPad.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

As the health care industry inches closer to the full implementation of electronic health records – making paper charts a relic of the past – providers continue to examine the most efficient, patient-friendly ways to bring that high-tech goal to fruition.

And as the Memphis medical community weighs its options, the iPad – Apple’s sleek, light-weight tablet computing device that weighs roughly a pound and somewhat resembles a doctor’s clipboard – is leading the way in some circles.

About a year ago, Christ Community Health Services, a Memphis faith-based organization that provides affordable, quality health care to the city’s medically underserved communities through five clinics, made the transition from paper charts to electronic health records.

“As we needed to get different hardware for that changeover, we looked at all our different options, particularly for our health care providers – our physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants – and what hardware they would use in the rooms when examining a patient,” said. Dr. John David Williamson, a physician with CCHS.

Several options, including desktop computers, laptops, notebooks and portable tablet computers, were tested in a clinical setting, weighed by factors such as battery life, ease of use, and portability.

Williamson said the iPad “was clearly the winner there.”

“The simple fact that I can hold it with one hand while walking around, rather than having to carry a heavy device, is a big advantage,” he said. “In some cases, it weighs less than a chart.”

Williamson is leading the implementation process for 38 recently purchased iPad 2s CCHS is preparing to roll out for use in its five health care centers.

“All of our charting will be done on the iPad now,” he said. “I can look at the patient and document the visit and their symptoms while I’m standing there talking to them.”

Williamson said that intimate, non-disruptive doctor-patient interaction is the “definite advantage of the iPad. Rather than having my back turned to a patient while on a computer, I can actually continue to have a normal interaction with the patient. It definitely facilitates that.”

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is studying the possibility of implementing the use of iPads using a virtual private network (VPN) client, starting with test subject Dr. Ken Robertson, pediatric physician informaticist and associate chief medical officer at Memphis’ Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, a heavy iPad user who said he loves the device’s portability.

“I can actually get into the medical records from anywhere I have a wireless connection with my iPad,” he said. “I was involved in a pilot project with iPads for users at Methodist just to make the medical records accessible to people who were inside the hospital. Now we’re testing to make sure it’s available to people from outside the hospital with the VPN client product that we’ll use on the iPads.”

Le Bonheur’s new state-of-the-art, $340 million, 12-story facility, which opened in December, is exceedingly well-equipped in terms of computer access.

“The iPad usage is going to tie in really well with a lot of the technology that we have here,” Robertson said. “We have a lot of new, cutting-edge stuff at Le Bonheur and this will just be another tool in the toolbox that will integrate nicely over time.”

But Robertson said hospital employees need multiple options for accessing the hospital’s computerized data.

“In some cases, you don’t want to use a laptop because even that’s too heavy or bulky, and the iPad satisfies the need for portability, ease and quick access,” Robertson said. “You’re immediately logged on; you don’t have to wait for it to start up like you do with most laptops. You can immediately get to what you need to get to and then get back off.”

He said he appreciates the ease portable devices offer in terms of maintaining user sessions from one hospital room to the next, unlike desktop computers that require users to constantly log on and log off.

“With an iPad, I can go in a room and show a mom X-rays of her child and what we’ve done with the X-rays,” he said. “I can go in the next room and pull up a patient record and something educational to let them see a picture of their child’s anatomy.”

Robertson said with an inevitable robust offering of physician-targeted applications and improved security, the iPad “is going to have a huge advantage for health care.”

Dr. Arie Szatkowski of the Stern Cardiovascular Center, one of the region’s largest cardiology group practices, which set up electronic medical records years before the iPad’s launch, said the physicians in his practice aren’t using the devices because each of the facility’s patient rooms is equipped with computers situated just to the side of the patient examination table.

“The iPad here in the office is just something we don’t need because of the way our practice is set up,” he said.

However, Szatkowski said he can see the device becoming useful for physicians making hospital rounds.

He said hospitals currently offer physicians desktop computers made mobile by carts, which can be wheeled from room to room.

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