Tablets to take top billing in healthcare?

Don't get distracted by the debate raging over whether tablets will replace laptops (and even PCs) in healthcare. The real central question here may not be whether they'll take the place of laptops, though, but rather whether they'll become an additional must-have tool for clinicians at the patient's bedside. The worst possible future for cash-strapped CIOs: Physicians ultimately may want both a laptop and a tablet--for different reasons.

The basic problem: Despite more tablet-specific software and apps being created for healthcare practitioners, tablets still lack the processing power and connectivity of laptops, meaning clinicians will still need a core computer for running reports, analyzing data, doing in-depth care planning, and the like.

But when it comes to clinicians' face time with patients, tablets win, hands down. Laptops are seen as intrusive, putting visible distance between the physician and his or her patient, while tablets offer an easy "look-over-my-shoulder" kind of interaction, rather like a digital clipboard.

Reviewing new tablet options last month, physician Kirk Dodson found their positives far outweighed any negatives when it came to providing bedside care. "Tablets provide the ideal vehicle, allowing almost continuous face-to-face interaction with patients in a non-obtrusive manner," he told MedicalTabletPC.com.

What's more, healthcare providers surveyed last year prefer the tablet mainly because if its ease of use--a tough thrust for laptops to parry.

And tablets certainly win in the log-on wars, with instant-on screens having created an expectation that laptops may not be able to meet anytime soon.

Tablets have some key functionality problems to overcome before they'll be the clear choice, however. One big one: Tablets don't usually perform well with software not specifically designed for them. Windows programs, in particular, can be temperamental in the tablet environment.

Also troubling are problems with on-screen keyboards and data entry, as well as issues with scrolling and managing different windows on often highly sensitive touch screens. Battery life can be far lower than laptops, and there can be some issues with establishing Internet connectivity, experts say.

With all that said, the patient preference for tablets may be what carries the day on this one. So for those of you setting your five-year budget, you may need to set aside funds not for a laptop or a tablet, but for a laptop and a tablet. - Sara

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