Tablets and the EHR: A Good Mix?

February 7, 2011

There is no question that the tablet computer is the coolest new computing gadget since the smart phone. But is it cool for EHR?

There is no question that the tablet computer is the coolest new computing gadget since the smart phone. But is it cool for EHR?

Maybe.

Without a doubt, tablets like the iPad will be a terrific tool for doctors who want a quick way of checking remotely into their EHR in response to calls from patients or consulting doctors. Their versatility and portability combined with reasonable screen size makes them ideal for the peripatetic physician who might need to toggle between reading an e-book and checking a patient's chart.

But does this new breed of tablets offer potential as the doc's primary EHR computing device, the one he or she uses every day in the office as they see patients?

Perhaps.

Here is why I hedge. First off, even the best point-and-click EHRs require a bit of keyboarding. My suspicion is the hunt-and-peck nature of the tablet's touchscreen-based keyboards will be frustrating to many providers raised on traditional keyboards.

Yes, you can attach a keyboard to a tablet, and they even make nifty docking stations that you could place in each exam room, but why not just buy a laptop-or even better, a "convertible tablet PC" that has the keyboard attached and the full power of a PC?

Speaking of PCs, it is important to remember that the new breed of tablets is typically running variants of operating systems that were designed for smart phones-not personal computers.

As a result, unless you purchase an EHR that was specifically designed for a tablet, you will need to buy and install an EHR-specific application so that it can effectively display your EHR and tap into the patient database. Because most EHRs were not expressly built for a tablet operating system, it is also likely that you will have a more reduced feature set than you would if you were to use the same EHR on a PC.

However, if you have fallen under the magic spell of any of the new tablets on the market, using it as your primary computing device for your EHR is entirely possible-and may even be the best choice for you. Before you make the plunge, do your homework to make sure that you can live with the technical tradeoffs (and additional costs) and take a test drive using the tablet with your EHR of choice. You are going to be entering a lot of data into the EHR-it will be worth a few minutes to see if the tablet fits your data entry style.

Bruce Kleaveland is a paid correspondent through Intel's sponsorship with Physicians Practice.