One in three physicians planned to buy the iPad Mini even when its existence was just a rumor, according to a poll of doctors by medical app developer Epocrates.

According to 90% of the respondents to the survey, the smaller size of the iPad Mini is the device’s main attraction. The 50 physicians surveyed indicated the iPad Mini will be easier to tote around between exam rooms and on hospital rounds because it fits nicely into the pockets of their lab coats.

Lab coat pockets are 8.5 in. long and 7.5 in. wide. The iPad Mini is 7.87 in. long and 5.3 in. wide.

The use of tablets by physicians for professional purposes has almost doubled since 2011, reaching 62% this year, with the iPad as the dominant device. Half of tablet-using physicians have used their devices at the point of care, according to a study by market research and advisory firm Manhattan Research.

The original iPad offered a lighter, less expensive alternative to the purpose-built tablets that medical personnel had been using, according to IHS iSuppli, a market research firm. The first-generation iPad was popular with physicians even though it lacked a critical feature that they very much wanted — a camera. The iPad 2 and later models included cameras, which medical staffers use in patient care — photographing wounds in order to keep a visual record during treatment, for example.

A survey of 3,798 physicians conducted in May last year by QuantiaMD, a mobile and online community of 125,000 physicians, found that accessing electronic medical records (EMR) is No. 1 on the list of ways physicians would like to use mobile technology.

More than 80% of the physicians responding to QuantiaMD’s survey indicated that they own a mobile device capable of downloading applications. That means the rate of adoption of smartphones and tablets among physicians is significantly higher than it is throughout the general U.S. population.

Apple products are the clear preference of physicians, according to QuantiaMD’s survey. Here’s a breakdown of the mobile devices purchased by physicians for their private practices: iPhone, 59%; iPad, 28%; Android smartphone, 21%; Android tablet, 3%; and Blackberry, 11%. Among tablet users, the iPad was virtually the only choice; only a fraction of physicians who use tablets said they had Android devices, according to the survey. Of the survey respondents who don’t use mobile devices, 66% said that they’re likely to select an Apple product when they do get one.

Dr. Mark Vadney, an anesthesiologist at Jefferson Anesthesia Services in Watertown, N.Y., participated in the Epocrates physician survey. Vadney said he has owned an iPad from "the very first day they came out." He is currently waiting to get a new iPad Mini when they’re in stock in his area.

"My current iPad is full of medical apps for ultrasound regional anesthesia, anesthesiology textbooks, and medical calculators," Vadney said. "The new iPad Mini is exciting because it will take a bit of the heft away of the current iPad without changing any of the functionality I need."

Vadney said the iPad’s resolution is "terrific" for ultrasound image evaluation. As a non-radiologist, he said the resolution is good enough for his needs.

In addition to Epocrates point-of-care medical applications, Vadney said he uses the Kindle’s mobile app (which he uses to download anesthesiology textbooks), a pediatric care medical calculator that generates tables of recommended medication doses, and an anesthesiology ultrasound app.

Doc with iPad

A doctor at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Israel shows a patient an X-ray image on an Apple iPad in this October 2010 photo. Physicians are looking forward to using the smaller iPad Mini, because, among other things, it fits into their lab coat pockets. (Photo: Nir Elias / Reuters)

Asked what sets the iPad Mini apart from other small tablets, such as theGoogle Nexus 7 or tablets specifically made for physicians, such as the Motion C5v Tablet, Vadney said familiarity was the key feature.

"I trust and have been happy with the iPad and all of my Apple products. They seem to be well built, deliver what is promised, and have been around for a while, and [Apple continues] to work towards improving the product," he said.

The only drawback to the iPad, Vadney said, is that it’s not designed specifically for medical use. For example, iOS lacks a central file management system, so files become associated with specific apps, and it’s hard to use files with other apps. Android tablets, meanwhile, do have a central file management system.

Epocrates and other medical app providers, such as Medscape and Skyscape, make their products available on both iOS and Android-based tablets.

Marianne Braunstein, vice president of product management at Epocrates, said the company was excited about the iPad Mini because it’s another device that supports the company’s healthcare workflow. She said her company’s physician clients were particularly happy that Apple kept the iPad’s user interface rather than using the iPhone’s interface.

"On the iPhone, there are only so many things you can do with the real estate, so physicians may need more tabs to open with that," she said. "The iPad has a larger form factor, so the same information can be presented on the screen even if it’s a smaller size."

For example, drug monographs are highly detailed and thoroughly documented studies on drugs that, if presented on an iPhone, would require a physician to select multiple tabs in order to find an adult or pediatric dosing recommendation.

"Whereas all of that information can be nicely listed in one flow and with one swipe on the iPad," Braunstein said.

Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at IHS iSuppli, said the iPad Mini provides the functionality healthcare providers need.

While the iPad Mini’s screen resolution isn’t as sharp as that of third- or fourth-generation iPads, "the greater portability is likely to outweigh that consideration in this particular purchase decision for many," Alexander wrote in an email toComputerworld.

IHS hasn’t surveyed physicians to find out what they think about the iPad Mini, but Alexander said the device seems "a natural match" for the medical profession, given the fact that physicians showed early interest in iPhones and were quick to adopt the original iPads. "The smaller, lighter size has key advantages," she said, noting that it enables medical staffers "to keep hands free when not using the tablet" because they can store it securely "in an easily available pocket," she wrote.

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