Family physician Saroj Misra may have been one of the first doctors in line to purchase Apple's iPad when the device came out three years ago — but if you asked him how he planned to use it, the answer would have been pretty short.
"When I initially got the iPad, my plan was to use it primarily as a reference tool in my office to look up information that I needed to find," says Misra, the family medicine program director at St. John Providence Health System in Detroit.
Today, Misra's iPad and new iPad mini, one of which is always with him while he's working, do so much more than he had originally imagined.
"Now I have the ability to access my electronic medical record system, as well as patients' hospital records, from my tablet," says Misra. "I don't have to go back to a laptop PC when I need to find relevant information for my patient."
Misra represents a growing contingent of physicians who can't imagine practicing without their beloved tablets — and it's easy to see why. Tablets have evolved into sleeker, easier-to-use, speedier devices with more and better applications and features suited to the needs of healthcare professionals. And in doing so, they have morphed into the ideal physician companion: According to Manhattan Research's "Taking the Pulse U.S. 2013" online survey of 2,950 U.S. practicing physicians in 25 specialties, 72 percent of doctors own a tablet for professional purposes. That's more than double the number from the same survey in 2011 (35 percent).
Here's a closer look at what today's tablet market offers physicians.
More styles and choices
Pre-iPad, many tablets looked more like scaled-down laptops. Today, tablets come in all shapes and sizes, and many of the leading ones possess thinner screens and smaller dimensions.
But while physicians still predominantly gravitate toward touch-screen tablets like the iPad, Carl Fleming, principal consultant with Impact Advisors, says convertible devices — those tablets that come with lightweight, removable keyboards — have come a long way, too.
"For business users needing to do more than just consume content, I see the convertible device being a fantastic solution," says Fleming, offering the Microsoft Surface and HP ENVY x2 tablets as examples. "It's easy to envision a clinician using this device much like a traditional laptop but in the form factor of a tablet PC."
Also, while many physicians are aware of "consumer-grade" tablets like the iPad, Fleming says there are also "health-grade tablets" that are "built specifically to withstand the rigors of the healthcare environment." The Toughbook H2 or Motion Computing C5, for example, are more durable (so they won't break when dropped in the exam room or hospital).
Size is another selling point . Apple's latest, the iPad Mini, for instance, is seeing popularity rates that could trump its flagship product, the iPad.
"The size is the perfect size to actually fit in the lab coat for a physician," says Marianne Braunstein, vice president of product management at Epocrates. "Even when you're seeing adoption rates of 70 percent for the iPad, we saw one-third of all physicians indicate they were going to purchase the iPad Mini even before it came out. It achieves the perfect balance in real estate, in terms of physical size and ease of use."