Using the concept of the iPad to further pharmacy education

A few weeks ago I installed the Blausen Human Atlas HD application on my iPad. The application features some pretty incredible 3D images and video. The videos provide an animated narrative on a host of medical conditions and treatments. In addition the Blausen application offers a cool 3D rendering of the human body and a glossary of terms. The images contained in this blog really don’t do it justice, as the iPad’s screen does a very nice job of displaying images like these.

I spent some time looking over the Blausen website to see how this application is being promoted because the real value of something like this is when it’s used for education. Depending on the depth of the videos created, the Blausen application could be used to teach patients how to do things like administer their own insulin or inject themselves with enoxaparin. In a more advanced application of the video atlas one could use it to teach nurses how to flush ports, take blood pressure, so on and so forth. Not to mention the potential application in the field of healthcare education. I remember carrying around the Atlas of Human Anantomy by Netter during my first year of pharmacy school; among other books. The iPad and an application like Blausen could eventually replace the need to carry physical text books.

The Blausen app got me thinking of the uses for tablets like the iPad in pharmacy schools. Of course it’s not the iPad itself that’s the most interesting part, but rather the concept. The concept isn’t new as you can find reference to using mobile devices in pharmacy education in the literature. It just so happens that the iPad has many of the features necessary to make something like this a reality.

Things that would make a tablet useful in pharmacy education:

  • Reading. Boy do you do a lot of reading in pharmacy school. It would be nice to see all pharmacy reference material available in digital format, including journals. Organizations like ASHP are finally starting to see the light and push into the digital age. I’m not completely sold on using the iPad for my reading needs because I still find reading on an LCD screen to be a terrible experience. However, new screen technologies might offer a better alternative in the near future. Whatever device finally makes the quantum leap into pharmacy schools it must handle PDF-like files, HTML, ePub formats, etc with ease. That means proper formatting, zooming, highlighting, bookmarking, linking, clipping, etc.
  • The ability to electronically access reference material and medical literature. This isn’t a new idea as schools like Stanford are already making digital libraries a reality by replacing physical books with digital versions. The benefits are obvious: easy to carry, easy to access, easy to search. Not to mention access to the material 24/7. I’m not sure how I feel about this as roaming “the stacks” was part of my pharmacy school experience, but technology marches on and things inevitably change.
  • Taking notes directly on the device. Tablets are good for taking notes, and what makes digital notes nice is the ability to tag them, index them, file them, share them and search them.
  • Document integration. Remember riffling through papers trying to find a handout or a note on a specific subject? I do. Electronic media offers a better solution. I currently use a combination of Microsoft OneNote and Evernote to handle my information collection needs. I haven’t found an equivalent on the iPad, but I’m sure something will eventually make its way on to the device.
  • How about online testing? Students could use devices like the iPad to take their exams in class. Using proximity technology students could load the exam on their device when they enter the room, take the exam and walk out without the exam remaining on the tablet. Or better yet, make the exams accessible via the web while in class then remove access when the exam is over. And this isn’t limited to multiple choice, which I despise. The ability to write directly on the screen takes care of that.
  • Class syllabi and other reading material could be uploaded into class “folders” or online course “libraries” for student access. One stop shopping.
  • Remote lecture attendance. I’m not a fan of this, but it’s possible with any computer, not just a tablet.
  • Remote study groups. I remember reserving rooms in the library prior to finals in pharmacy school. Everyone would get together and study. Unfortunately the rooms were always too small and people got left out. Video conferencing might be an option. Again this isn’t unique to tablets, but it’s still an option. In fact, you can’t do this with the iPad because it has no video capabilities. The iPhone 4 does however.
  • Applications to help students in certain subjects like biochemistry, organic chemistry, anantomy (see comment on Blausen Human Atlas HD above), etc. Applications for viewing molecular shapes and design like Molecules or iKinasePro would be neat. These applications aren’t necessarily ready for use in pharmacy school, but the foundation has already been laid. How about simple things like a periodic table (EMD PTE), or replacing your calculator, etc. We already know that mobile devices have been successful in helping students learn pharmacokinetics (Am J Pharm Educ. 2006 February 15; 70(1): 04). This is just an extension of that idea.

Things that needs improvement:

  • Devices like the iPad need to have a better way to move reference material and medical literature on and off the device, mark them up and store clippings for later reference. Or better yet, create a cloud environment where one can manipulate the material online and have information synchronized across multiple devices.
  • A Dropbox style interface would be good as one could work on items offline and simply wait for internet access to upload changes and update the information.
  • A much better cloud presence.
  • A collaborative workspace where students can share information, make notes, upload information, chat real time, etc; preferably in the cloud. This may already exists.
  • A Skype like video conferencing system. As mentioned above, it would be nice for students to be able to speak to each other on their tablets while working on a project or simply studying.
  • Full access to all forms of internet content, i.e. you can’t eliminate things like Flash until they no longer exist. As good as the iPad is, it falls short in some areas because Steve decided to go a different direction. A device for education can’t have those limitations.
  • Docking options and OS capabilities. The iOS offers one of the greatest user interfaces ever designed for a mobile device. The simplicity and usability is reminiscent of the Palm OS. The problem, for me anyway, is that there is still a gap between the iPad and the desktop. The desktop offers all the functionality one needs, but is too complex for most mobile devices. And devices like the iPad offer the simplicity and mobility needed by students, but falls short in functionality. The concept is close, but not quite there. Developers will eventually take care of the issue as demand drives the market in that direction, but at the moment it’s just not quite right. For me the perfect tablet would be one that offers the simplicity of the iOS when mobile, but offers more complex functionality and options when docked as a desktop. Perhaps the perfect device will have a form factor like the Asus Eee Pads with full dock and multiple ports as seen in this YouTube video. Who knows.

And then as you finish your education, the device becomes your peripheral brain for clinical rotations and on into your professional practice. Just a thought.

3 thoughts on “Using the concept of the iPad to further pharmacy education”

  1. Hi Glenn
    Like the original iPad, I think the iPad2 has lots of potential uses in pharmacy educations. The appeal of the device is its simplicity, long battery life and portability. Putting reading material on the device could go a long way in replacing textbooks and paper journals. It could also replace a calculator and be used to take notes, albeit not as well as a tablet PC. With that said I think it falls short is a couple of areas. Most notably it lacks flexibility when it comes to other systems. With Apple it’s their way or the highway. That works fine for a lot of people, but causes problems when you want to combine your iPad2 information with something else. The iPad2 has much to offer, but won’t replace a laptop; at least not in my opinion.

    If you’re interested in getting more information on the use of the iPad2 in healthcare education I recommend you contact the University of California, Irvine medicine program. The students in this program are given iPads loaded with curriculum related materials. The people I’ve talked to say they love it. I assume you could apply their model to pharmacy education as well.

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