We Have an App for That

Advance for Imaging & Radiation Oncology | Do you have a need for information in a simplistic, quick, efficient, mobile and relatively cheap electronic device? Well, Apple believes they have the solution. Unless you’re living under the proverbial rock, you’ve heard about the iPAD. iPADs and other tablet-like electronic devices are changing the way we carry out activities in our personal and professional lives. There are thousands of ways that this device can be used by those who are lucky enough to own one. In this article, due to a restriction of length and a personal attention deficit, I’ll focus only on the growing use of iPADs for medical applications.

iPad mania
The Apple iPAD, released in April of 2010, was bought by three million people in 80 days.1 Apple had sold 14.8 million IPADs worldwide,2,3,4 representing 75 percent of tablet PC sales at the end of 2010.5 During the release of the iPad 2 in March 2011, Steve Jobs said that just under 15 million iPads had been sold in the device’s first nine months on the market–more than all other tablet PCs combined.6

The iPad is a line of tablet computers designed, developed and marketed by Apple primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games, and web content. The iPad’s touchscreen display is a 9.7 in liquid crystal display (1024×768 pixels) with finger-resistant and scratch-resistant glass. All iPad models have Wi-Fi capabilities and come in several versions based on primarily on storage space and additional 3G capabilities.

Apps for medical use

Washington Post journalist Martha White states, “While the rest of the world texts, tweets and generally fawns over the thing, that’s muted with the reception the iPad is getting in the health care universe.”7 The health care industry is truly embracing the use of these devices. Patient care facilities are experimenting with ways to implement them to improve efficiency and effectiveness in daily health care delivery.

There have been numerous articles focused on the creation of pilot programs evaluating the effectiveness of iPad in the medical setting.7,8,9 John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has found that doctors are spending more time with patients; in fact doctors are engaging patients by showing them images and data on the screen. He believes that the iPad is empowering doctors to be more productive and fosters a closer doctor-patient relationship. Hospitals located in Syracuse, N.Y., are using iPads to remotely access patient medical records, prevent potential drug reactions, access online documents, remotely control HVAC systems, access lab results and allow physicians to remotely view fetal monitoring when requested by attending nurses.

Recently, the FDA cleared the first application for image review on iPads.10 The application, or app, is for MIM Software’s Mobile MM application, the first viewing application to receive clearance for diagnostic use on Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. The clearance covers viewing and making medical diagnoses using iPads and iPhones for CT, MR, and nuclear medicine images (including PET), but the software is not intended to replace full workstations; it’s only indicated for use only when there is no access to a workstation, according to the FDA.

iPads for nuclear medicine

It’s entirely foreseeable iPads could be coming to a nuclear medicine department near you!  I can imagine applications for the radiopharmacy, access to electronic health records, camera control and operations, environmental control and other essential operations in our profession.

They are being integrated into education at a blazing pace. My faculty requested iPads in 2010 primarily as a tool to be used on clinical site visits with students. The iPad is lighter than most laptop computers and features a simple interface that does not require a keyboard or mouse. I hesitated forwarding the request due to restraints on the current operating budget. Fortunately, an opportunity to generate additional departmental funding did provide for the purchase of five iPads. After receiving them, we quickly searched for ways to implement the iPads into our educational curriculums. We were pleased to find a plethora of applications that can be used for medical imaging. I was blown away that Elsevier had electronic versions of most of our textbooks that could be stored on the iPad. After a quick download, I now have an entire library of impressive medical textbooks at my disposal. Imagine a personal virtual library of the most significant radiology science textbooks available 24/7. This is a fantastic asset for educators, technologists and students alike.

Applications for biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics, or any other area of science are readily available. I cannot do justice to the creativity that has gone into these educational applications in this short article. I highly recommend you find a way to explore the applications, searching the internet or borrowing an iPad if you don’t own one. There are also science-based podcasts, which are presentations, on every topic imaginable. Applications are available at a small cost ($5-$15), to do work processing, power-point presentations and spreadsheets. iPads are well-suited for completing emails, and organizing documents and calendars. We have had the iPads for three months and we continue to find more ways to use them in daily professional activities.

iPad limitations, final scores

I must add that every device has its limitations, and the iPad has them too. The device does not intend to replace desktop and laptop computers. It’s smaller than standard laptops and comes without a dedicated keypad, does not include an USB port, memory card port, has smaller storage capacity (it’s limited to a 64 GB of flash memory) and the battery cannot be removed from the system. It can be dropped, scratched and generally abused. The screen is limited to 1024×768 at maximum and the surface is constantly smudged from user fingertips. That said, I still highly recommend this device to anyone interested in mobile technology.

The health care industry is looking at every opportunity to embrace technology that will make it more efficient and improve patient care. There is certainly a market in health care and education for the Apple iPad. Actually, the iPad may be the start of a trend. Apple is not the only player; competition is a key component of a free market. But my overall first impression: Apple has another winner on its hands.

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