It may seem like a tool from the dark ages, but up until fairly recently, the pager was one of the primary communication tools in a doctor’s arsenal. Whether it was a patient emergency or a problem at the hospital, pagers were the device that every M.D. had on their person at all times. After all, it was just what you did. And it wasn’t that long ago that doctors were found pushing their eight-­‐pound laptops around on rolling carts, or using tablets that required a stylus and a degree in computer engineering just to use. Things have changed a lot in the past decade or so, and between the innovations in the smartphone industry and the development of tablets that consumers have flocked to purchase, it’s inevitable that the medical industry would take notice and make a few changes on their own. So what’s changed so much and how has it helped doctors diagnose your pain more effectively? Let’s take a look and find out.

The Tablet Generation

In the late 1990s, tablet computers were all the rage. These were full personal computers, typically running the Windows operating system, that did everything a laptop or PC could do. The main differences were that a stylus instead of a mouse was used as a primary input device, and there was additional software that enabled handwriting recognition. It was a doctor’s dream tool.

It was everyone’s idea of the perfect computer at the time, but the reality of the situation was a different world. Handwriting recognition was never really perfect, and most doctors’ notoriously poor penmanship didn’t make the process easier. Plus, the tablets were pricey, and eventually poor sales caused them just to disappear from the market. Laptops became the computer of choice for most people in the medical profession, even though they just weren’t as portable or light that everyone wanted.

In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, and shortly thereafter there were rumors that they had been shopping around a tablet of some kind, even visiting hospitals in the process. The way the legendary CEO Steve Job s apparently saw it, what would become known as the iPad could revolutionize the way that doctors treat t heir patients. A mobile computer that could access the Internet and handle complex tasks without a stylus could change the healthcare system. Turns out, he was right.

With the iPad came competition from other manufacturers, including Asus, Samsung and Google. Even Microsoft has entered the fray, and soon the Microsoft Surface will hit the market as well. As a result, doctors now have lots of tablet options to choose from, most of them with similar features.

A recent article in Pain Medicine News discussed the tablet revolution, particularly the transition that happened at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass. From that piece: “‘Until recently, tablet computers were too heavy, had too short a battery life, were too expensive or had too poor a user interface to serve as an effective tool,’ said Henry Feldman, M.D., chief information architect for Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians, speaking at the American Medical Informatics Association meeting as part of a panel on the use of tablets in health care.”

Admittedly, the iPad is the front runner in the field, mainly because of its popularity and support from thousands of developers. It’s also durable, fairly inexpensive and easy for any doctor to buy at a local electronics reseller. But there is lots of competition in the works, and soon we’ll see tablets made by other manufacturer  s out in the field. Things will just get better as the competition grows, and doctors will eventually have lots o f options to choose from.

Harnessing the ‘Net

When was the last time you opened up an encyclopedia? How about looking up something in a dictionary? Chances are pretty good that instead you went to M-­‐w.com or Wikipedia to get what you needed, so why wouldn’t a doctor do the same thing?

An article featured on Medpagetoday.com that was produced by MedPage Today and ABC Medical News U nit talked about that very issue, and how it affects doctors specifically. From the article: “‘Early in practice, if I had a clinical question to research, I had to go to the library, pull out multiple years of the Index Medicus, look up the topic, write down the references, go to the stacks and pull the volumes of journals, find the article, read the article, go to the copy machine and make a copy and if I were lucky, I would have my answer in about four hours,’ said John Messmer, M.D., associate professor at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.” Having access to the information you need quickly and easily can be the difference between life and death i n an emergency situation. Combine that with the tablet movement and the ability to access the net from those devices, research couldn’t be any easier.

Living in the Future

We may not be driving flying cars, and no one is going to be riding on a flying hoverboard anytime soon, but we certainly are living in a new age of technology. The devices we use every day are now more powerful than the computers of just ten years ago. Access to information has never been easier. And the medical comm unity has benefitted from all of this. The next time you enter a doctor’s office, take a look around at the technology around you and how your doctor is using it. Who knows, it might just save your life.

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