The Orlando Sentinel
November 2, 2009
When Dr. Sally Elias wanted to find the price of the diaper-rash medication for a patient recently, she didn't have to leave the baby and her mother alone in the exam room to call a pharmacy or search online.
Instead, the Orlando pediatrician pulled out her iPhone, placed it on the exam table, and with 9-month-old Madelyn Chambers crawling around her, she found the price in seconds using an application called Epocrates.
"I like to think of the time in my life before I had the iPhone as the primitive time of my practice," said Elias, 36, who got her iPhone in March. "It minimizes interruptions in our conversation and makes me a more efficient doctor."
Elias is one of a growing number of Central Florida doctors for whom the iPhone is becoming just as important a part of their tool kit as stethoscopes or prescription pads.
It's an early glimpse of the larger role technology will play in health care during the next decade. Fueled in large part by billions of dollars in federal stimulus money, hospitals across the country are working to digitize medical records, upgrade computer systems and reduce the amount of paperwork.
Just like regular people, doctors are drawn to the iPhone's apps and Web browser, which allow them to do everything from writing and transmitting prescriptions to looking up words in another language to talk with patients who don't speak English. Elias often brings up a picture of a pill on the phone to help a parent decide whether it's too big for their child to swallow.
More face time
Doctors say the technology allows them to spend more face-to-face time with patients because there's less reason to leave the room to make a call or look something up in a book, which may not have up-to-date information. The phones also allow doctors to be more responsive when they are on call or away from the office.
"It's something that any physician or anyone in the medical field can use, because you can always find that specific app just for what you are doing and use it to your advantage," said Dr. Nicole Cameron, 29, an Oviedo pediatrician who also uses an iPhone when she sees patients. "You can keep up to date on medicine without having to pull from a lot of different resources."
Although the BlackBerry remains the most popular smart phone among physicians, iPhone adoption is rising quickly, said Monique Levy, senior director of research for Manhattan Research, which studies technology in health care. In the past year, the number of doctors who have iPhones has doubled, Levy said. Overall, 64 percent of all physicians have a smart phone or personal digital assistant.
"I think we will continue to see it grow," Levy said. "It mirrors [the growth of] iPhone adoption overall."
Epocrates, the most downloaded free medical application in the iPhone app store, is being used by more than 100,000 physicians, according to a company spokesman. The app store's medical category features more than 1,000 free and paid apps including a medical encyclopedia, calculators and lists of medical codes.
When Elias first started using her iPhone in front of patients, she had to explain to them that she wasn't making phone calls. But now, most of her patients are used to her iPhone and appreciate that it lets her be more informed, she said.
"It's great because you are not waiting as long because they have the information at their fingertips," said Rachel Chambers, 37, of Orlando, the mom of the infant with diaper rash. "I feel better because she is not just relying on her memory."
At Nemours Children's Clinic, pediatric urologist Dr. Hubert Swana uses the iPhone's cousin — a video iPod — to show patients and their families video clips of the procedures he's about to perform. Since the surgeries often involve the use of robots, Swana finds that sometimes patients have trouble understanding what will take place when he explains it verbally.
"Information is helpful, and the more information a parent has, the more comfortable they are with the entire process," said Swana, 43. "I do think it helps relieve anxiety. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is that much more."
Alex Veletsos, chief technology officer at Orlando Health, said a growing number of the system's doctors are using iPhones, even though the hospital issues BlackBerrys.
"It's going to be a game changer in the way that doctors and hospitals and employees and physicians' offices are providing care," Veletsos said of doctors' increased use of mobile devices.
"Care is moving from happening on paper to happening on PCs and laptops over the Web, to now happening anywhere any time through ubiquitous access."
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