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Physicians tell how much time tablets save them

Ninety-one percent of health care professionals say the devices improve their ability to access information on the go.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan covered health information technology issues and social media topics affecting physicians. Connect with the columnist: @Plewisdolan  —  Posted Jan. 7, 2013.

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Harish Gagneja, MD, a gastroenterologist in Austin, Texas, said the time he spends with his patients in the exam room hasn't changed much since he started using a tablet. But he's able to accomplish more in that time as a result of his tablet use.

Before the tablet, Dr. Gagneja found himself regularly leaving the exam room to access drug resources, check formularies and call insurers. All of that is now done at the patient's side using apps to check drugs, or apps that allow him to share anatomical drawings with patients to explain procedures. By eliminating the time spent tracking down information, Dr. Gagneja said he is able to spend more face time with patients, making the exam time more of an interactive experience for them.

Dr. Gagneja is one of the nearly two out of every three physicians using a tablet computer in clinical practice. A recent survey hints at why so many doctors have adopted the technology.

According to a study by the technology firm CDW, professionals generally gain about 1.1 hours in productivity per day by using a tablet computer. For health care professionals, the productivity gains are slightly higher, at 1.2 hours per day.

CDW surveyed 152 tablet-using health care professionals as part of a larger survey of 610 professionals from various industries that was published in December 2012. The health care professionals said they spend an average of 2.4 hours per day on a tablet. Eighty-six percent said the tablet makes them better multitaskers; 74% said it improves workflow; 66% said it helps increase collaboration with co-workers; and 91% said it improves their ability to access information on the go.

Efficiency gains

When Apple's iPad was launched in 2010, sparking the current tablet boom, there was a lot of talk about clinical uses for them, said Jonathan Karl, sales director for CDW Healthcare. But many users found that the clinical apps, especially electronic health record systems, weren't optimized for use on tablets. Things are moving in that direction, he said, but in the meantime physicians are using tablets to save time in other areas such as email, patient education and Web browsing.

Sixty-two percent of physicians own a tablet computer, up from 27% in 2011, according to Manhattan Research's “Taking the Pulse U.S. 2012” survey of 3,015 physicians in 25 specialties that was conducted in early 2012.

Though other devices, such as desktop computers, don't have the portability that attracts doctors to tablets, they are still being used. The survey found health care tablet users spend an average of 31% of their computing time on a tablet, with the rest spent on desktops, laptops and smartphones.

Tablets allow on-the-go access to information that is often too large to view on a smartphone screen, but too urgent to wait for a desktop computer. Because they are smaller, more lightweight, and have more battery power than laptops, tablets can be carried and used throughout the day to accomplish tasks like emailing and scheduling between seeing patients.

Kelly Rakowski, managing director of the health provider practice at the consulting firm Accenture, said she has seen physicians experience big productivity gains from tablet use because of the ease with which they can access and share information with their colleagues. They can send referrals to a specialist, for example, before the patient leaves the exam room, eliminating the need to catch up on paperwork at the end of the day.

Dr. Gagneja said he doesn't have to make as many phone calls as he did in the past. He said the time he saves by eliminating the requisite pleasantries that come with a phone call can add up over a day. He said he's able to get directly to the point with an email, which can be sent from just about anywhere.

The other timesaver is a feature in his drug reference app that collects and manages medical news specific to his field. He said relevant information is delivered to his tablet, eliminating the need to search and read through a collection of articles to find items specific to his interests. He catches up on reading whenever he has a few moments to spare.

“Based on the productivity gains we have seen just on the email, Web and calendar usage … I think it's safe to assess that will continue into more creative use as the clinicians find more ways to use it effectively,” Karl said. Time that is shaved off each visit or off each task will mean more gains in productivity, he said.

Rakowski expects the uses for tablets to grow as new capabilities are introduced. She said two big opportunities are in telemedicine and remote monitoring conducted through a tablet.

One industry that is already feeling the pressure from tablet-using physicians is continuing medical education.

“Consumers are high users [of tablets], and physicians are very high users,” said Marissa Seligman, PharmD, chief of clinical and regulatory affairs and compliance officer for DBC Pri-Med, a medical education company based in Boston. She said physician use of tablets has led to more interest in online CME opportunities.

“There is a hunger” for this on-demand type of learning, she said, and it is a direct result of more physicians using tablets.

Dr. Gagneja has seen evidence at his practice that tablet use will continue to increase. He said about half of the 26 physicians there use tablets on their own, but he foresees a practicewide initiative in the near future. The tablet “is a really, really powerful tool and has made me very productive,” he said. “And even more, it has increased patient satisfaction.”

Pamela Lewis Dolan covered health information technology issues and social media topics affecting physicians. Connect with the columnist: @Plewisdolan  — 

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External links

CDW Tablet Poll, December 2012 (link)

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