iPad Review - Ingenious Novelty or Practical Tool? (Part 2)

November 22, 2010

Two factors will determine whether the iPad turns out to be more than a novelty gadget: How well it works for what the techies call "content creation" (think documentation or charting) and how well it can interact with other computer-stored data and files.

Two factors will determine whether the iPad turns out to be more than a novelty gadget: How well it works for what the techies call "content creation" (think documentation or charting) and how well it can interact with other computer-stored data and files.

There are several ways to get information into an iPad when writing, taking notes, and composing long email messages:

• The most iPad-like approaches to input are custom apps in which you point and click. Apps like this are great for ordering a book or maybe even writing a prescription. They could even work for PA or nurse practitioner encounters like a wound or anticoagulant check. Unfortunately I have only seen one app that provided a satisfactory method of documenting a patient's history by point-and-click and it does not and could not work on the iPad.

• Use an external keyboard. This approach requires some sort of stand or case to hold the iPad upright, in addition a keyboard. It’s really difficult to balance a keyboard and an upright iPad on your lap. A small Windows laptop costs less than an iPad plus a keyboard.

• Use the on-screen keyboard. It's fine for short messages - very short messages.

• Use an app that will recognize handwriting and printing on the screen. I tried one. It's very slow and it required writing so large that I was limited to one or two words at a time, then there is a wait while it processes. I used the app for about 15 minutes and abandoned it.

• There is an app by Dan Bricklin (of Visicalc fame) that captures what you write on the screen as an image. It has many slick features for dealing with magnification and capturing a continuous flow of writing. Unfortunately, it does not convert handwriting to text and the primary way to get the notes out of the iPad is to have them converted to a PDF and then e-mail them to yourself. After reading about this one on their Web site, I didn't bother to try it.

My recommendation for writing is to stick to the on-screen keyboard and try to keep the amount down to a paragraph, or better yet, a sentence.

The mechanisms that Apple has provided for getting files and other content in and out of the iPad are cumbersome and offer limited functionality. There are several Web-based services that allow sharing information between all your computers whether they are PCs, Macs, or iPads. 

Evernote is a free Web service that allows you to create notes and text documents. Sections of the text can be encrypted (but strangely, not on the iPad version) which is useful for protecting passwords and the like. Regardless of where you create a note, they are all synchronized to the Web service and then to all your other computers. Another service is offered by Dropbox. Instead of focusing on notes, Dropbox is designed to synchronize an entire folder on your computer with the web service and your other devices. There is no encryption on this one, just a password, so don't put anything really sensitive out there. 
 

Daniel Essin, MA, MD, FAAP, FCCP, is a regular contributor to the Practice Notes Blog. He has been a programmer since 1967 and earned his MD in 1974. He has worked at the Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center where he developed a number of internal systems, chaired the Medical Records Committee, and served as the director of medical informatics. His main research interests are electronic medical records, systems architecture, software engineering, database theory and inferential methods of achieving security and confidentiality in healthcare systems.