Doctors cite ease of use in rapid adoption of tablet computers

About one in four owns an Apple iPad or similar device.

By — Posted April 18, 2011

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Just one year after Apple launched its first iPad tablet computer, 27% of primary care and specialty physicians own an iPad or similar device -- a rate five times higher than the general population, according to a report by market research firm Knowledge Networks.

The research, released March 31, was based on a poll of 5,490 doctors conducted by the Physicians Consulting Network, a health care research panel that surveys physicians.

The survey did not ask respondents about a preference for tablet computers, but most experts agree the iPad prompted the attention to the mobile devices. In 2011, more than 52 million tablets are expected to be shipped, with iPad models representing 75% of that number, according to research firm Canalys.

Only one year after Apple released its first generation iPad, it has come out with a second-generation edition. Meanwhile, most every major technology company has launched their own versions of the lightweight tablet, many of which are being built on the Android operating platform. That is used by several smartphone devices designed to compete with Apple's iPhone. According to the Knowledge Networks report, 64% of doctors own a smartphone.

Meanwhile, Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry smartphone, plans to release it own tablet this year.

C. Peter Waegemann, vice president for development at mHealth Initiative, a Boston-based organization that promotes mobile technology in health care, said doctors have adopted tablets quickly because they find them easier to learn and use than other computer systems. In many cases, data on tablets can be accessed by the touch of a finger on a screen, rather than typing or searching.

Waegemann said various studies have found that between 60% and 80% of health information technology users in hospitals are unhappy with their computer systems, finding them too cumbersome or slow to use. Various analysts say tablet computer purchases are starting to cut into desktop computer and laptop sales.

"This is a whole new approach, and people get excited, they like it and they say, 'We want systems like this,' " Waegemann said.

The growing number of iPad competitors, many offering their tablets at a lower price than Apple's range of $500 to $750, will only help speed the development of new technology and make it more accessible, he added.

Few fans of "e-detailing"

The survey found that mobile apps such as drug reference tools are the most popular among physicians. Use of mobile devices to perform tasks such as email, research and taking surveys grew significantly in 2010, Knowledge Networks said.

But one area that has not caught on for physicians is "e-detailing," electronic communication between pharmaceutical sales representatives and doctors.

Mobile apps from pharmaceutical manufacturers receive minimal use, the survey found. Only 23% of primary care physicians and 28% of specialists prefer computer-based e-detailing. Physicians 55 and older viewed e-detailing only slightly less favorably than younger doctors.

"Our findings also reinforce the important role that sales reps' visits still play in doctor interactions; the transition to digital is still just that, and ignoring either side of the equation is likely to backfire," said Jim Vielee, senior vice president of the Physicians Consulting Network in Roseland, N.J.

A 2009 report by Cutting Edge Information, a Durham, N.C.-based market research firm, estimated that big pharmaceutical firms were investing between $5 million and $10 million in e-detailing solutions as they slashed their numbers of sales reps.

Henry Gazay, CEO of Medimix International, a marketing research firm for pharmaceutical, medical and diagnostic device companies, said that despite the preference for face-to-face meetings, many sales reps believe the return on investment is at stake when they weigh the costs associated with an in-person visit against the number of prescriptions they can expect to gain from that visit. It has become especially difficult when generic drugs make up more filled prescriptions, he said.

The survey also found that 61% of primary care physicians and 50% of specialists have an open-door policy when it comes to visits by sales reps. The remaining physicians either require reps to make appointments or don't meet with them at all.

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