iPad: The new stethoscope?

March 4, 2011: 11:39 AM ET

Just as Steve Jobs touted at the iPad 2 launch, tablet computing is pervading every corner of our lives--even the doctor's office

iPad 2

Like its predecessor, the iPad 2 wasn't built specifically for enterprise customers. But that doesn't mean you won't find tablets in the office. Or in the operating room.

The health care industry in particular seems to have taken a liking to the iPad. Tablets are relatively easy to tote in and out of examination rooms. And the advent of electronic medical records means medical professionals have even more need for access to digital data on the go.

Even Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs, who is on indefinite medical leave, highlighted the healthcare industry's use of the iPad at the company's launch event earlier this week. A few minutes into his presentation, Jobs showed a video featuring a testimonial from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka, who claimed the iPad will "change the way doctors practice medicine."

"Sometimes doctors are overhwhelmed with data," Halamka said during the video. "What we have tried to do with the iPad is to give doctors at the point of care the tools they need at the exact moment the doctor can make a difference. We're finding with the iPad doctors are spending more times with patients. In fact, doctors are engaging patients by showing them images, showing them data on the screen."

Halamka, who has also served as chair of the government's Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP), went on to say that the iPad has "brought doctors and patients together."

While I'm not convinced the iPad has the power to make me feel closer to my general practitioner, the device is definitely scoring big among physicians. According to healthcare IT research firm Chilmark Research, about 22% of U.S. doctors were using iPads by the end of 2010.

The iPad 2 is slimmer, faster and lighter, but it doesn't offer a whole lot more that its predecessor when it comes to enterprise-ready capabilities. Still, it does have front- and rear-facing cameras, which could be attractive to heavy videoconferencing users and doctors who could utilize the technology to remotely check in with their patients.

"It doesn't fit in a white coat perfectly," Pravene Nath, chief medical information officer at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., says of the iPad. "But people find the experience suitable to moving around."

Nath says Stanford has been testing the use of iPads for education, clinical care and access to electronic medical records. The medical center has even placed iPads in some waiting rooms, in lieu of the television sets (and tropical fish aquariums) normally used to keep patients entertained.

But despite how great those x-rays might look on a shiny new tablet, IT departments at Stanford and other hospitals won't be rushing out to buy the new iPad 2 for their employees anytime soon.

"Right now, it's not our strategy to purchase these devices for people," says Nath. That means that many of the tablets in use at Stanford Hospital were purchased by the doctors themselves, not Nath's department.

Then again, says Nath, a lot of doctors also purchase their own stethoscopes. And white coat makers might do well to start making bigger pockets.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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