Dr. Jeff Talks Tech: Do Pharmacists Need iPads?

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely been inundated with news of Apple’s iPad in the past several weeks. To give pharmacists a better sense of the iPad’s use in everyday practical and professional settings, we asked Jeff Prescott, PharmD, RPh—Director of Scientific Content for Pharmacy Times—about his experience using the device and its potential for pharmacists. A self-professed early adopter and committed technophile, Dr. Jeff was among the first in line to receive his iPad after its release on April 3, 2010. Here’s what he had to say:

PT: Thanks for agreeing to share your iPad insights.

PRESCOTT: You are welcome, always happy to talk tech. To truly be in the moment and spirit of the iPad, I am actually composing my responses to your questions on my iPad using Apple's "Pages" application. However, I will admit that I’m using a Bluetooth keyboard, since my "hunt and peck" method of typing on the iPad's on-screen keyboard would turn this project into some serious homework.

PT: You've spent some time with the iPad. Has it lost any of its luster since you first took it out of the box?

PRESCOTT: It has not lost any luster whatsoever, though it has gained many fingerprints and smudges. On that note, I have been pleasantly surprised that those marks aren't very visible during normal use. The screen is bright enough that they are non-issues; however, I have not used my iPad after eating pizza or fried chicken, so YMMV based on lifestyle choices.

Strengths & Weaknesses

PT: What's the iPad's greatest strength? Do you use it primarily for work or play? Biggest disadvantage?

PRESCOTT: I think its greatest strength is also one of its greatest weaknesses, that being the iPad’s uniqueness in the market. Sure, everyone knows what a computer can do, but being first-to-market with such a polished device means that consumers have to re-learn how this piece of hardware fits into their lives. Some people have very high expectations and needs from their iPad, some of which may not be realistic (yet) and conversely, a few folks may get their iPad and be so overwhelmed by its potential that they are like a deer in headlights (technologically speaking).

The majority of time I have spent on my iPad has been focused on entertainment and web surfing. However, it has been invaluable to handle some work-related tasks in a pinch when I was not near my desktop or laptop.

Tech Specs

1) Battery

PT: How long is the battery life, based on your experience? Is it significantly diminished by certain activities—for example, browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, reading magazines, etc.

PRESCOTT: With respect to power, this thing is comparable to that Bunny that sells batteries. It keeps going and going. While my iPhone or Blackberry may last a day of normal/moderate use, the iPad has lasted through the day, night, and into the next day with regular and continual use. Although I have not performed any benchmarks, I did use it to watch movies on a plane trip out to the West coast. 5 hours of movies used up 25% of battery life.

2) Wireless + 3G

PT: You bought your iPad before they were wired with 3G network coverage. Had it been available, would you have splurged for the 3G + Wi-Fi option, despite the extra cost?

PRESCOTT: That is true—I'm the early adopter who wants to make everyone in the office jealous (and did). If the 3G were available, I would likely have sprung for the extra $130. I think it’s nice to have that choice in wireless access, but my restlessness far outweighed my need for 3G.

On that note, my intent from the get-go with the iPad was to just utilize the Wi-Fi option only. I surveyed how I would use the device (from the day Steve Jobs unveiled it), and came to the realization that I'm near a hotspot during most of the times when I would be using it. When traveling, since tethering to the iPad is difficult with most AT&T devices and I’ve been unsatisfied with the 3G experience from AT&T, I went with a Sprint Overdrive mobile hotspot, which in Philadelpha is 4G (and rocks!). I gave up the tethering plan I was using with my BlackBerry and the AT&T Wi-Fi account, which I used off and on. The net result was a pretty good mobile internet experience that I could use with my iPad and any other piece of my armory of mobile tech and gizmos.

3) Size & Portability

PT: Is it small enough to carry in the pocket of a pharmacist's lab coat? And perhaps more importantly: would any pharmacist want to?

PRESCOTT: I can't speak for all lab coats out there, but the ones I'm familiar with could not handle an iPad. It is the size of a piece of notebook paper and does not fold to fit (yet). As far as want to…I think having the ability to having the internet at one’s fingertips is a hard thing to turn away. I think that’s a big draw of the smartphone.

Reading

PT: What types of content do you usually read on it? Have you purchased many eBooks/magazines? Do you think it offers a better reading experience than an e-reader—say a Kindle or a Nook? Do you think it will replace either of those devices?

PRESCOTT: The lion’s share of reading that I've done on the iPad has been through web-surfing. I have purchased a couple magazines to get a feel for the medium, but I normally don't read many magazines to begin with; 99% of the periodicals I read are professional/clinical in nature and not available (or ready) for the mobile market yet. As for other forms of literature...I'm more of a fan of audiobooks.

However, I did do a side-by-side with my mother's Kindle, and I have to admit that reading on the iPad was easier on the eyes for me, and the pinch to zoom was very helpful at times as well as the brightness. In addition, my mother became very jealous when she saw the iPad next to her Kindle (looks like we know what to get her for the holidays).

As for replacing those, I think there's still a market for eBook readers based on cost and desired function. But it is interesting to consider that the both Amazon and B&N have Apps for reading their content on the iPad.

iPad vs. iPhone

PT: What reasons might a pharmacist who already has an iPhone want to buy an iPad?

PRESCOTT: Both devices are obviously very similar, but the size of the iPad makes the difference. It provides a very real platform to be productive (as in writing articles) and interact with content and applications in a more "real" fashion. The cost of this is portability. With this in mind, the pharmacist who wants an iPad would want it for all the same reasons anyone else does; however I would say there are currently few reasons why a pharmacist would want one for strictly professional use…unless you count the desire to have the world’s most expensive ointment slab. :)

PT: Are there any astounding experiences singular to the iPad that can’t be had with another device (particularly a tablet PC or a netbook)?

PRESCOTT: I've used the other devices mentioned in the past, and you can't beat the flexibility of those devices compared to the iPad. The Apps are certainly valuable and effective on the iPad, but they are limited. But what the iPad lacks by way of these limitations, it makes up for in integration and interface.

iPad for Pharmacy?

PT: There has been some debate over whether pharmacists are likely to adopt this sort of technology as a professional tool going forward. What’s your prognosis? Does the iPad make technology adoption among pharmacists more likely?

PRESCOTT: I see potential for the iPad in many pharmacy environments, thought it might be costly to implement in all situations. For facility-based clinical pharmacists, the iPad could provide an excellent interface for SOAP notes, drug histories, and other chart-related information. It could also be used to order drugs or services without having to get to a crowded terminal.

For interacting with patients, the iPad could be used as an educational tool, to show patients static images, videos, or other content.

And for any pharmacist (or any practitioner for that fact), the iPad can be a virtual medical library, granting access to information on diseases, diagnostics, and drugs. Of course, it makes for a great calculator to figure out CrCl!

Apps

PT: A reader on Facebook asked us about Epocrates for the iPad. Have you loaded any pharmacy apps onto the iPad? If so, how well do they work?

PRESCOTT: I have. Right now the only medical app I have that has also been developed/formatted for the iPad is WebMD, though it is geared towards patients. The iPhone version of Epocrates is compatible with the iPad, and it has run just as well, if not better on the iPad due to the better processor.

PT: Thanks again for taking time to respond to our questions.

Have an iPad? Want one?

To respond to any of Dr. Jeff's comments, or to discuss your own perceptions and/or experiences with the iPad, visit the Pharmacy Times Facebook page or follow us on Twitter (@pharmacy_times).