BY GWENDOLYN NG
CONVENIENT: Dr James Yip of NUHS making use of an iPad to track patients’ conditions. (PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN)
If you noticed doctors walking around the National University Hospital (NUH) engrossed with their handheld devices late last year, don’t worry: they were actually checking on their patients.
A group of 20 doctors and surgeons at the hospital were taking part in a four-month trial in which they used their iPads keep track of their patients’ conditions while on the move.
The trial, which lasted from August to November last year, was conducted by the National University Health System (NUHS), a health cluster set up by the Ministry of Health.
NUHS runs the schools of medicine and dentistry at NUH and the National University of Singapore.
The doctors chose to use iPads for the trial as the tablet computers are larger than other handheld mobile devices, giving them a better view of critical information, such as X-ray scans, heart rate and blood pressure.
A my paper check with other hospitals found that the NUH doctors were probably the first here to put iPads to such use, and their feedback has been favourable.
NUHS chief medical information officer James Yip said: “The doctors love the device. The start-up time is fast, its battery life is long and it’s light, making it convenient to carry around.”
The iPads allowed doctors to be more mobile than before, he added.
“Even though we have wireless laptops and personal computers in hospitals, hand-held devices like the iPad or the iPhone allow doctors to look up data at any time,” said Dr Yip.
He added that NUHS had previously issued doctors with laptops to access patient data on the go, but they found it troublesome to lug around the heavy machines. It did not help, either, that the laptops had shortlived batteries.
NUHS hopes to let 350 consultants access patient data via hand-held devices in about six months.
Medical-technology experts told my paper that there is an international trend towards using mobile devices in health care.
Mr Werner Van Huffel, Microsoft Asia-Pacific’s industry marketing-development manager for health and social services, said: “In many cases, a doctor roves around”, so the mobility of medical information is “critical”.
Microsoft has developed a Windows Phone 7 application that can directly deliver information to doctors, but it is currently available only for demonstration.
Health-care institutions here are interested in adopting similar technology, but they say it may take a while.
Still, “it would be great to have iPads or tablets on our rounds. Young doctors are especially interested”, said Dr Samuel Yeak, the chief medical informatics officer of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
“There is greater potential use for such tablets in community care, as it will let medical professionals access current data when they are visiting discharged patients, for instance,” he said.