Making the Most of the iPad Mini on Medicine Rounds

On my birthday a few years ago, I was lucky to get an iPad Mini from my husband. I already had an iPad and had shared my experience. In fact, we gave all of our residents iPads (one of them contacted Steve Jobs and got a response), and documented an improvement in efficiency on the wards. So why the Mini? What is all the fuss? Why is the Mini the new must-have for doctors and future doctors?

1. It fits in your white coat! Yes, while there were entrepeneurs who started creating the iCoat, the truth is who wants to wear a coat with a huge pocket on the side? This means that you also don’t need to wear the “strap” that we require our residents to wear for the iPad since we did not yet invest in the iCoat.

2. You can hold it in one hand! This for me is the best part and very underappreciated point in the blogs and reviews I have read. This means you can touch the screen with one hand while you are palming it with the other. I don’t even have the largest hands so I would say it definitely was just at the reach of my palm grasp, but I can imagine it would be perfect for my male colleagues.

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3. It fits in your purse! While the female docs may find palming the iPad mini not as easy as the men, never fear…since this one is for the ladies. Many female doctors are always on a quest to find the right handbag/workbag combination. Owning an iPad always meant buying boxy “folio” type purses or shoving it to barely fit in a handbag. The mini is the PERFECT size for a medium size handbag – hobo or satchel. This means that you can go from day to night without carrying your “work bag” to the restaurant. And for the men out there, you can always get a “murse”. I hear that they are making a big splash.

4. You’ll carry it more. Number 1 through 3 really boil down to the fact that it is hard to carry the iPad. Because the Mini is so easy to carry, you won’t find yourself without access to the electronic health record or paging directory. You may be more apt to show patients their images or X-rays or look something up because it is not as hard to use.

5. You’ll make friends. Basically the minute I brought out the Mini, everyone…nurses, social workers, residents, students, and yes patients were interested in seeing it – “Mini envy” as my students called it. It’s a conversation starter that can improve collegiality and teamwork. When I visited floors that I did not usually work on (overflow patients), I met a nurse who asked me about the Mini – and the next day, she came to our rescue when we were trying to decipher the timing of a patient’s medication and a potential new allergy.

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6. It is more discrete to use at a conference (once everyone stops staring). The Mini is smaller so a bit more stealth in terms of answering a text page or checking a lab while you are sitting in case conference, and you can easily stash it back in your purse as noted above.

Some things to think about. The Mini is not without its pitfalls – many of which are predictable due to its size and interface.

1. For the visually challenged, it can be hard to see. Sure… you can always “magnify” things with the correct gestures. But, if you are in your Citrix Client looking at your electronic health record, it may not be so easy to magnify and you may have to hold it up closer to your face which can be awkward. Maybe I just need to get my vision tested? Either way, something to be aware of.

2. Easy to lose. As part of the residency program project, the nice thing about the iPad with strap is you can see it on the resident and it’s harder to walk off with. The Mini could disappear in a snap. Could someone even “pick-pocket” a doctor coat? Very possible.

3. It is not a complete substitute for a workstation or pen and paper. This is not unique to the Mini. There is a reason that mobile tablet computing is not a complete substitute for a workstation – the lack of a keyboard. As a result, some of our residents carry “paper notes” with their iPad – the paper notes are to take notes of the to-do list that is created on rounds -nothing like checking all those boxes off as an intern. The iPad does not replace that so readily – and while there are others thinking about this space, it’s worth noting that the preference for pen and paper to organize one’s thoughts is very strong. I have to admit, watching the catchy commercial for the Windows Surface, there is still something so appealing about an external keyboard.

Flickr | KristinNador

Flickr | KristinNador

So what is the verdict for the Mini? Well, as we say in medicine, the risks of the Mini are outweighed by its benefits making it the perfect prescription for all the physicians or physicians to be in your life.

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Vinny Arora, MD, MPP

Vineet Arora MD, MPP is Director of GME Clinical Learning Environment Innovation and Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Arora’s scholarly work focuses on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. Her work has appeared in JAMA, the Annals of Internal Medicine, The New York Times, CNN, and US News & World Report. Dr. Arora blogs about her experiences in medical education at FutureDocsBlog.com