Medical Education & Technology: Tablets and Smartphones In Medical School – Part One

By Patrick Sylvester

ipad med schoolSomething that has interested me greatly thus far in my training is how the intersection of technology, societal values, and advances in knowledge has shaped the face of medical education. It’s my hope to start an ongoing dialogue about some of some of the potential issues that our generation is bound to encounter.

Given that this is a pretty broad place to start from, I thought it might be wise to start small (perhaps “portable,” if you’ll allow the pun) and revisit the use of tablet and smartphone technology in medical education. We’ve written on this type of technology use before, but I believe the timing is right to revisit this topic, as the culture in which technology has been adopted in clinical education has certainly changed.

As a frequent user of my iPad, I’ve tried my best to incorporate it into my daily work on the clinical wards. I’d like to form this article in the style of frequently asked questions (FAQ) based upon common queries that I’ve gotten from my peers, residents, and attendings. I’ll then address these questions using personal experiences as well as with interesting findings from recent studies in medical education & mobile healthcare technology.

Please note that each of the following questions carries a link to a survey where you can contribute your own opinion! We’d love to hear from you.

Q: Why use an iPad as opposed to Android, Windows, Blackberry, etc…?

A: It is certainly not my intention to create a comprehensive comparison of these different platforms, nor attempt to sway you to one side or another. However, in the interest of full disclosure—I am an Apple user through and through: iPhone, iPad, Macbook Pro. I made these decisions based on two factors: personal preference based on trying different products in brick and mortar stores as well as what was readily supported by my school. In fact, many schools have adopted such technologies, going so far as to make the iPad part of the required items for school. Therefore, I would strongly suggest that if you’re unsure, speak to your school’s/institution’s IT department.

Q: Do you use your tablet to study? If so, does it help?

A: Although I would argue that the use of technology such as tablets and smartphones has helped me in both the preclinical and clinical components of medical school, this is likely a very personalized issue. There have been a few reports of schools that have instituted curricula heavily dependent on tablet technology, which claim to observe an effect on academic performance. However, existing studies, which compare the effect of similar content on mobile devices vs. traditional media, are not very robust at this time.

Q: Do you use your tablet around your residents/attendings?

A: There’s really no single set of rules to when and where the use of tablet/smartphone technology is appropriate in the clinical environment. However, this question raises a particular concern that plays a big role in modulating my own usage of technology in the clinical setting.

Some of this may be dependent on the team/service you’re working on as well as the context in which you are using your tablet/smartphone. For example, I hardly ever bring out my smartphone on rounds for fear that it will appear as if I’m not paying attention. Paradoxically, I often feel it would be perceived more favorably to pull out my tablet and, using the same applications I would use on my phone, look something up that was appropriate and relevant to patient care.

A good suggestion for navigating this potential issue is to be observant of the behaviors of your residents and attendings, and be very transparent about your activities when using your smartphone or tablet.

What do you think? Comment below and share your thoughts!


1 thought on “Medical Education & Technology: Tablets and Smartphones In Medical School – Part One”

  1. Honestly, there should be a bubcyak program for the 2012 or a rebate for the 2013. As others have noted, the errors in 2012 requires hours to correct. I really do expect at least a partial if not full refund for the unprofessional 2012 product.

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