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Doctors diagnose the iPad's usefulness: vital signs looking good

April 3, 2010 |  2:48 pm

The scenario sounds straight out of a sci-fi movie -- the doctor pulls out her touch-screen tablet computer from the drawer of instruments. She calls up the patient's chart with a few taps and proceeds to add a note to the page with her latest diagnosis. A visualization pops up, and she flips the screen over to give the patient an idea of what ails him.

Doctors are presuming the iPad could make this scene a reality as soon as next week.

Seems everybody is buzzing about Apple's new "magical and revolutionary" product, as the company calls it, and that includes MDs in between consultations or surgeries. One in five doctors say they plan to buy an iPad, according to a survey of 350 clinicians by the San Mateo medical software vendor Epocrates.

A UCLA psychiatrist is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his iPad on Saturday. John Luo, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry, considers medical apps on his iPhone indispensable. The only thing missing is a sufficiently large screen to share the images with patients, he said.

"Some of my patients are a little older, and they have trouble reading the screen," Luo said on the phone Friday. "If I could run the same app on a larger screen so that I can show it to the patients, that would be better."

During a keynote last year at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Apple highlighted health-related apps including a remote to monitor a person's vital signs. Those programs designed for the iPhone can run on an iPad, blown up to double size. And more than 2,000 software developers have already built and submitted apps specifically made to take advantage of the larger screen.

"Let's say you had a graph of the patient's blood sugar over time," Luo said. "You could show those graphs to the patient pretty easily. You would just sort of pull it up on your electronic medical record and hand the screen to the patient."

Chatter inside some emergency rooms reflects excitement for Apple's touch-screen computer, but other ER workers expressed worry that carrying around such a hot device could attract thieves.

Luo disagrees. "The iPad is kind of large," he said. "I'd like to think I would know if it went missing."

But even if it does disappear one day, Luo calls it "the price of doing business."

[Corrected, April 5, 12:08 p.m. A previous version of the story called John Luo an associate professor of critical psychology. His correct title is associate clinical professor of psychology.]

-- Mark Milian

Photo credit: Lu Guohua / EPA