TEACHnology in Medicine

Focusing on the incorporation of technology into medical education and the future of medicine
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Last week, Apple announced the release of the iPad mini, their new 5.3” x 7.8” answer to the growing market of smaller tablets and readers such as the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7. Since its release, I’ve received many questions as to the potential role of the mini in medical education - would its smaller size improve adoption rates, specifically in the clinical areas where the existing iPad may be too big? Or, should medical schools continue to stick with Apple or move to another device like the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7?  And possibly the most important question of all…do you have your iPad Mini yet?

Well first off…no iPad Mini yet - we purchase them through our campus computer store and our order only arrives next week.  So with that in mind, this whole post may be invalidated as soon as I pick mine up.  :)

Let’s look at its potential for Medical Education through the lens of the basic sciences experience and the clinical experience, since these two uses are quite different in their technology needs.

  • Basic Sciences - primary functions are consuming large amounts of medical content, be it via PDFs, textbooks, podcasts, or apps.  For this task, I don’t see how the iPad mini would be less useful than the iPad.  Conversely though, I’m not sure that its smaller size would make it more useful than the regular iPad.  For students in their 1st and 2nd years of medical school, I have yet to hear anyone say “this iPad is just too big.”  Also, our students have gotten quite good at creating content while in lecture.  I wonder if the smaller size, will make annotating notes and creating diagrams more difficult?  Check out the great examples of student notes generated during lecture…
  • Reference Material in Clinical Rotations - primary functions here in the clinical setting are just-in-time learning, quick references, and exam preparation.  For the reference and study material, I can see the argument for a smaller iPad; however, most white coat manufacturers now make pockets for their lab coats.  We have a post on MacHealthcare regarding some of the vendors for iPad-friendly white coats here.  Some students and faculty have noted that at times, the iPad is more prone to bumps and getting knocked around in their coat, so they often add a protective case, which definitely adds to the heft and size.  Some even come with their own shoulder strap as an alternative to the white coat.  Is the iPad more bulky than all of the pocket reference materials students and residents have traditionally carried around in their white coats?  Hard to say…
  • Accessing the Electronic Medical Record in Clinical Rotations - now this is the area where the iPad Mini may have problems.  EMR’s with dedicated iOS apps have different functional versions based on the device - Epic has separate apps called Canto and Bento, Allscripts has Sunrise MobileMD that has different functionality based on iPad vs iPhone/iPod.  The iPad versions of each EMR provide a good deal of functionality because of the screen size - I worry that the iPad Mini does not have the screen real estate for looking at progress notes, lab trends, etc.  Also, for those Citrix users, the iPad screen size is at the minimum size necessary to really be functional since you are running a full Windows desktop.  The iPad Mini may have too much scrolling to be useful.  This could be problematic for programs like the University of Chicago that rely heavily on Epic and their iPads.  
  • Patient Education in the Clinical Setting - the larger screen size of the iPad is really great for educating patients and showing them the images of their radiology images and patient education apps like DrawMD.  The size is also great for sharing data during walking rounds - definitely easy to show trends in lab values, etc to a team of 5-6 people without too much squinting.  The iPad Mini may be too small for this…
  • Mixed platform deployments - iPads and Kindle Fire, iPads and Nexus 7?  Always a tough idea to institutionally support multiple platforms, especially if the goal of using a mobile platform is to consolidate all of your resources in one place.  There is a still a fair amount of digital textbook and app content exclusive to the iPad.  Also, many hospitals don’t allow Android-based devices on their networks since they lack built-in hardware encryption and security…
Final thoughts verdict - again, I don’t have one to make a more realistic determination, but based on what I’ve read and our experiences thus far, the iPad Mini may not have a distinct niche in medical education.  Would some students like the smaller format?  Possibly… Are we going to switch our iMedEd Initiative to iPad Minis at this time?  Not just yet.
That being said, I’ll keep you posted when I get my Mini!