Rumors of a Mac Tablet have been circulating around the Apple blogosphere for the past few months. While speculation escalates about the opportunities for an “iTablet” in the consumer market, we can’t help but muse on its applicability to medical records.
There is a seemingly endless amount of medical applications that could be developed for a Mac Tablet.
However, we think it would be the ultimate interface for electronic medical records (EMRs). Ease-of-use has been a primary barrier to EMR adoption, so Apple – known for intuitive design and usability – would be welcomed by physicians.
So here we ruminate on the possibility of a Mac Tablet and present ideas on its use with EMRs.
The Ultimate EMR User Interface
An Apple tablet would be the ultimate UI for electronic medical records. With a touch-screen display like the iPhone, using the EMR during an encounter would be simplified. For example, selecting an evaluation and management (E&M) code could be as easy as “dialing in” the code with a swipe of a finger.
Using the iPhone’s intelligent keyboard technology, the device could have a very sophisticated automatic coding tool. Some EMRs can already auto-generate E&M codes based on information collected during the patient encounter. Combine this with the iPhone’s keyboard word suggestion tool, and physicians could rapidly select codes. Additionally, just as the iPhone adapts its keys and layout for different applications, the Mac Tablet could display a unique keyboard setting for each EMR function.
Using iPhone speech recognition technology, physicians could dictate directly into an EMR to create notes, draft narrative reports or generate custom patient instructions. Mac design programs could be repurposed to make a really slick tablet drawing tool for anatomical diagrams that illustrate procedures and diagnoses.
A large-scale and fully-functional version of the iPhone could also lure third party developers. As of March 26th, there were 30,000 third party iPhone applications. Think how many more a Mac Tablet would attract; we could certainly expect to see some innovative mash-ups. Here’s one for starters: using Google search by voice, physicians could recite a disease into the Mac Tablet, then receive a list of diagnosis codes. This would be especially useful as there are thousands of diagnosis codes and many of them are revised on a regular basis.
The Ultimate EMR Mobile Device
In addition to being a killer UI, a Mac Tablet would be extremely useful because of it’s mobile capabilities. The foremost benefit would be having the ability to access a database of digital medical records from anywhere, assuming it has 3G mobile connectivity (e.g. AT&T). That is of huge value to a physician that splits time between the office, hospitals, surgery centers, nursing homes, etc.
As Ars Techinca pointed out, Apple has filed patents for a docking station that could use wireless inductive charging – a method of wirelessly recharging a device without plugging it in to an electrical outlet. This would be useful in a hospital or large ambulatory clinic. Instead of worrying about battery life and the risk of losing unsaved data, each exam room could be equipped with a docking station that recharges the tablet.
With so many technological possibilities, how realistic is it that a Mac Tablet would be a success in healthcare? Well we think Apple could become a leader in healthcare, just as they have in other verticals (publishing, digital media, education). We talk with an increasing number of providers that are moving from PCs to Macs, mainly because they are perceived to have fewer problems (we agree).
The development of an Apple tablet also presents an opportunity for medical software vendors. While there are a handful of EMRs designed for Macs, none of the major players currently support Mac OS. Furthermore, web-based EMR vendors have yet to optimize their product for Apple’s Safari browser. So even those that have the easiest path to Mac compatibility haven’t done it yet. EMR vendors need to jump on this opportunity by building compatibility with Safari or by building the tablet equivalent of an iPhone application when the Mac Tablet is released.