MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA--At the Launch 'Pad conference today, two back-to-back presenters showed how they are trying to modernize the doctor/patient relationship with iPad apps.
The more ambitious and better-established company, Dr Chrono, is an iPad-centric, complete office automation suite aimed primarily at small medical practices. Patients may encounter it when they're asked to sign in at their doctor's office; it will collect the insurance information and medical history data that most offices collect on generations-old paper forms.
But doctors can use the app for ordering labs, handling billing, and even taking medical notes.
What's interesting to me about this business is that the core app is free to doctors. In fact, the free app can even make them money: Thanks to government incentives to modernize healthcare data collection, using the free app for 90 days can make a small medical office $14,000, Dr Chrono CEO Michael Nusimow told me. He says his is the first iPad app certified for this program.
What's Dr Chrono's cut of this? "We get more users," Nusimow says. But there are paid portions of the service. As doctors layer in prescription management, insurance processing, and the speech-to-tech note-taking function, they start paying.
Down a notch in ambition but more likely to be visible to patients: JiffPad, a medical app for iPads that's designed to replace those weird posters and 3D models that doctors use to show you what's clogged or malfunctioning in your body. Essentially a PowerPoint for patients, it's a visual display app that doctors can use to illustrate medical images when sitting with a patient. They can record their comments as they speak, and makes highlights on images. Patients then can get the recorded audio and visual file sent to a private inbox that's viewable on any Web browser.
With Jiffpad, docs can also "prescribe" presentations to their patients, to help educate them.
The company hopes to get big pharma or large hospitals to buy site licenses to the technology, and wants those companies to give the app away to physicians. I'm unclear, though, on how that will work given the non-entrerprise-friendly sales mechanics of the Apple App Store.
During my too-long career of reviewing technology products, I have seen dozens of companies bust their picks on medicine and health-care markets. It's just brutal. The money is there, but it's locked up by insurance companies; and physicians are not, historically, early adopters of technology.
But that is changing: 25% of doctors have iPads, Nusimow told me, and that number is likely to grow quickly thanks to the herding behavior of physicians (at least when it comes to technology). Furthermore, the government, as well as private healthcare companies like Kaiser, are fully embracing information science as a key to doing better medicine and better healthcare cost controls.