It is no secret that physicians are giving increasing approval to medical applications of tablets and smartphones. The increasing demand for tablet- and smartphone-ready medical software speaks volumes on this. Anyone who has had a moment to catch a glimpse of the latest advertising has heard of 4G (Fourth Generation wireless) and the marked increases in speed, quality and convenience its vendors vow.
But everyone knows what you see in an ad and what you get after committing to a new device and plan can be two different things. Will 4G and its attendant devices lend momentum to mobile device uptake? Let us hear what doctors who are putting them into practice have to say.
The Motorola PHOTON 4G is available for $199.99 (with plan).
Gregg M. Alexander, D.O., a pediatrician at Madison Pediatrics, Inc. in London, Ohio, sees 25 to 30 patients daily. He also performs C-sections and treats newborns at Madison County Hospital in London. Alexander recently upgraded from the HTC EVO 4G to the Motorola PHOTON 4G. He gifted his wife with the EVO.
"My wife needed a phone upgrade, and I was eligible for an upgrade myself. I had been looking at different options," he says. "The PHOTON is definitely more of a business workhorse than the EVO." In Alexander’s experience, the PHOTON makes social networking applications such as Twitter and Facebook easier to use. The phone is compatible with Android medical apps. It is globally friendly, switching over easily to European cell systems for physicians who may travel there.
"It also has a nice look and feel and reboots very quickly. The EVO has a long boot process. But the PHOTON is very fast. It almost boots like an iPhone or iPad," Alexander says.
Speaking of looks, the Motorola PHOTON 4G comes with two cameras, one in front and one in back. The front camera enables video chat with high quality and no skips, stalls or buffering. Alexander uses the PHOTON’s embedded rear camera for medical recording. "If I am examining a patient, I can capture an image of a rash, for example, using the phone’s 8MP camera. This is very handy," he says.
But Alexander’s favorite feature is the impact the speed of the PHOTON and its 4G connection have on viewing and using medical applications. "I use Peak Practice, which Allscripts acquired when it purchased Eclipsys. It’s an EHR application," Alexander says. Alexander uses the application through LogMeIn Pro. "I notice the difference when using Peak Practice where 4G is available while I am traveling," Alexander says.
Despite those features he treasures, Alexander interjects that he does have a wish list of features and capabilities he would still like to see on 4G smartphones.
"The biggest thing is the interoperability factor. I would like to be able to use Microsoft Excel or Word on the device, sync that with my PC, and share those documents," he says.
He would also like to be able to use telemedicine and remote telepresence applications on a 4G smartphone.
"I am in touch with people who are doing telemedicine and telepresence who are looking at using smartphones for online consults and on-the-spot consults without having to find a telemedicine conference room for it," Alexander explains. He is also interested in using 4G to tie into patient communication applications to communicate with patients more. "I would like to make more use of social media, which will empower the physician-patient relationship," he says.
The phone has some empowering hardware options too. Doctors should consider acquiring the compatible HD Station, which enables physicians to attach the PHOTON to a computer display, wireless keyboard, mouse and memory stick. Physicians can start calls from their computer displays and work with their browser windows simultaneously for multitasking. They can even launch calls by selecting a phone number on a website without having to key it in manually. A separate in-car navigation dock converts the PHOTON 4G into a GPS device.
The phone comes with IT policies for enterprise use, which can help enforce compliance with regulatory requirements. It is loaded with multiple messaging and web apps with access to many more. With a dual core processor and 1GB of RAM, this phone competes on speed with some tablets. The PHOTON 4G connects with both 3G and 4G hotspots when roaming for continual connectivity.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 with 4G is $529.99 with a new contract.
A practitioner in family medicine, Pennie Marchetti, M.D., of Primary Care Physicians of Stow (Ohio) also acquired her 4G device as part of an upgrade. Though the tablet enables Marchetti’s mobile office, it might not be in the way that most people would think. "I use it as a MiFi device to connect my Lenovo to the Internet when on the go," Marchetti says.
A MiFi device connects to the 4G wireless network, then makes that connectivity available to other devices via WiFi. With the Galaxy Tab, Marchetti takes her own WiFi hotspot with her wherever she goes.
EMRs and faxes come in all the time that require Marchetti’s signature. "I can do the paperwork in the car while someone else drives and keep it from piling up," she says. The tablet is a critical tool for Marchetti to get her work done in a timely fashion.
That work includes receiving EHRs, answering phone messages, communicating with staff, ordering refills on prescriptions, and checking lab results all while connecting through the 4G tablet.
"I reach the office securely through a VPN connection that extends easily over the WiFi and 4G networks. I can then use the eClinicalWorks software on my notebook to complete my work," Marchetti says.
The device also has built-in GPS, which Marchetti uses when traveling, and the ability to log on to secure messaging sites so she can communicate with her patients.
"It boots quickly, sets up easily, has a lengthy battery life of about eight hours and the 4G connection is strong and consistent all the way from Akron, Ohio, to Ithaca, N.Y., with very few dropped connections," Marchetti says.
Finally, all that tablet speed and endurance saves time. "It has saved me hours of work that I would have to complete on my return to the office. It has made the work more efficient, and I don’t have to worry about old work when I get back, just today’s work," she says.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab comes with a 10.1-inch touchscreen display, 1280 x 800 HD resolution, a fast NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz chip, and 1GB of RAM memory. The device measures 0.34 inches thin and weighs 20 ounces. A keyboard dock for full legacy keyboard access is available separately.
The Samsung Galaxy S smartphone is $99.99 with a new contract.
Pedro A. Ballester, M.D., a family physician with a practice in Warren, Ohio, adopted his first smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy S. Though most of his use of the device is not for medical purposes, he does use Epocrates, Medscape, and other medical applications on it.
"I am torn about the lack of a keyboard. I sometimes wish I had a big touch screen or slide keyboard on it, but that would make the device more bulky," Ballester says.
He would also like to see some kind of verification process for easier login on hospital networks when he first arrives. "I wish there was some way to login automatically and use the hospital’s resources as soon as I am in range of the network. It would be helpful to have access to Epocrates and Medscape as soon as I walk in, some sort of handshake protocol so I am immediately able to use the local WiFi network instead of having only guest access," Ballester explains.
The phone has a front camera for video chat that uses the QIK video application from Skype and a rear 5MP camera suitable for taking photos or HD video. Busy physicians can use the device as a mobile hotspot and a WiFi phone.
For the physician who has to have more speed today, 4G smartphones and tablets abound with more in the works. With real-time video chat, high-resolution medical image capture, increasing support for social networking, more efficient access to medical apps, GPS navigation tools, and global roaming not the half of it (and discounts for those who choose to upgrade), there’s a lot to consider in the new world of 4G wireless.
David Geer is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine’s Tech Notes department.