The Mobile Physician


In early March, Apple released its thinner, sleeker iPad 2 at a launch event featuring CEO Steve Jobs, who returned from medical leave to participate. He heralded 2010 as “The Year of the iPad” and proudly relayed that between April and December 2010 Apple sold 15 million iPads, approved 65,000 apps developed specifically for the device, and garnered over 90% market share in the tablet market.

Healthcare featured prominently in Jobs’ discussion about commercial uses of the iPad. Not only did Mr. Jobs show an X-ray image while talking about “lots of apps for business,” but he also shared a video in which Dr. John Halamka, the Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School and a practicing emergency physician, extolled the virtues of this tablet. “What we’re trying to do on the iPad is 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 that doctors are spending more time with patients; they are engaging patients by showing them images and data on the screen...What’s so exciting about the iPad is that it will change the way doctors practice medicine.” This is not an insignificant endorsement from one of America’s most well-respected IT chiefs, and the man whose blog “Life as a Healthcare CIO” proudly sports GeekDoctor in its URL.

Tablets: Not just for sales reps anymore

Though the iPad is the most popular tablet, there are many other options available. Tablets are portable computers that typically weigh less than a laptop or netbook and are smaller in size. Many lack a physical keyboard, relying solely on a touchscreen for inputs.

For many of us in the pharmaceutical marketing world, we have come to think of tablets as tools used by pharma reps as part of closed loop marketing efforts. Ever since the 2010 launch of the iPad, however, tablets have begun to infiltrate many different medical settings. Recent studies with physicians and hospital systems confirm that Dr. Halamka is not alone in his love for this new technology.

Android and Blackberry move in

But the tablet world is getting more complicated and the iPad is no longer the only game in town. Android-based tablets like GalaxyTab and Xoom are making inroads, Blackberry’s PlayBook will be here soon and several more are in the works. While the iPad has had a major head start and garnered a legion of loyal fans, Dr. Felsafa Wodajo, a bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon in northern Virginia who is also senior editor of medical technology review site iMedicalApps, predicts that tablets using the Android operating system will eventually win out. In a March post called Why Locked Android Tablets Will Beat the iPad for Hospital Use, Dr. Wodajo put forth his view that Android’s operating system offers a more customizable, flexible and secure platform, all of which are important factors to hospitals and IDN’s (integrated delivery networks). He believes that medical applications will be developed in-house in the future by institutions to integrate with their specific workflows and electronic medical systems (EMR, EHR). He writes, “Apple’s iPad is a highly refined and capable device which can rightfully be said to have revolutionized computing. It will, however, not be the device most likely used by physicians to access patient records in the future.”

5 tips for staying on top of tablet trends

With so many tablet choices, not to mention the ubiquitous smartphones, how do marketers keep up-to-date on emerging trends so that we can credibly counsel our clients? Here are 5 sure-fire way to stay on top of tablet – and all other emerging mobile health – developments.

  1. Attend at least one mobile health/mHealth event over the next year. An entire industry has sprung up around mobile health, which means there’s no shortage of conferences, symposia and webcasts to choose from.
  2. Subscribe to iMedicalApps in your RSS feed (or at least bookmark their site). Mentioned above, iMedicalApps is a physician-led site where practicing doctors provide commentary and reviews of mobile medical technology and applications. This is for people who are interested in understanding what physicians really use and value.
  3. Subscribe to a general mobile health newsletter like MobiHealthNews or Fierce Mobile Healthcare for a daily digest of the latest stories and trends.
  4. Purchase two different tablets for your group – an iPad and one with a different operating system, perhaps one that is Android-based. During digital and tactical brainstorms, keep them on hand for creative, account, and brand teams to play with for inspiration.
  5. Download 15-20 different medical and health apps for each tablet. Select from a broad range of therapeutic categories (e.g. diabetes, oncology, multiple sclerosis) and for different audiences (patients, physicians, medical students, pharmacists). Use them!

Bottom line: mobile health is here to stay and will continue to evolve. Last year it was the smartphone; right now it’s the tablet; next year it will be something else. Doctors may love the iPad today but it’s important to stay on top of the mobile health trends to understand what they – and other HCP’s – need for tomorrow.