The Tablet Age

tablet-computerThe newest novelty in Silicon Valley’s ever-evolving technological arsenal, tablet computers like the iPad are making their way from glossy commercials to coffee shops, couches and boardrooms across the country. Their unique, utilitarian design is ideal for reading the Sunday paper, downloading digital music and scrolling through vacation photos, but tablet computers are also proving their real-world mettle in modern classrooms and offices.

While classrooms have changed little over the centuries, technology experts are predicting the tablet age will forever change the way students learn and professors teach. When it comes to chiropractic classrooms of the future, heavy backpacks may prove to be an artifact of the analog era. “Our school promotes a healthy lifestyle and a healthy spine, yet students carry pounds and pounds of heavy books on their backs,” says John Altikulac, Life University’s chief information officer. “It’s really comical, but digital textbooks will change everything, and enable us to walk the talk. Physical books are also limiting because our students are required to learn so many different techniques that would be much easier to learn on a tablet.”

In the classroom of tomorrow, Altikulac envisions students scrolling through constantly updating digital textbooks, jotting notes on their tablet screens, downloading images of subluxated spines and snapping pictures of whiteboard diagrams drawn by professors, which can then be saved as PDFs and uploaded to a university-wide information cloud built for sharing, saving and synching data. “With this kind of technology,” he says, “we could deliver a lot of our speeches and lectures through a podcast delivery system that students can stream in real time or download on their tablets and watch numerous times.”

While Altikulac estimates only 10 percent of the current Life University student population have tablet computers, their lightweight, one-sided design and extended battery life make them an enticing alternative to the laptop when it comes to interacting with classroom lectures and viewing adjustment technique videos. However, like many colleges, LIFE is a long way from requiring tablets for all entering freshmen due to the tablet’s limited data storage capabilities and the lack of digital textbooks currently available for download.

“I definitely think we’re moving toward a model where tablets are included—Florida State is taking a heavily integrated tablet technology approach—and electronic textbooks would be a good way to get used to the tablet as a medium,” says G. Teston, Ph.D., program coordinator for the undergraduate degree in Computer Information Management in LIFE’s business program. “However, I would caution that we need to separate the hype surrounding tablets from their genuine uses. They are primarily devices for media consumption like browsing the web, doing research and looking at video, but they are not as robust as a regular laptop. A lot of people like the novelty of the tablet, but I still see most students taking notes in a paper notebook. Whenever there is a verbose activity with a lot of typing or editing involved, the tablet has some limitations.”

Regardless of their current limitations, tablet computers provide some enticing possibilities for professors interested in presentation technology. With new technology in hand, educators will be able to create presentations that synch simultaneously with classroom audio-visual equipment and student tablets throughout the room. With the ability to instruct every student to look up an educational video on their own handheld device, tablet computing may offer the ideal multimedia-learning environment tech experts have envisioned for years. “In our classrooms with computer labs we have had these kinds of capabilities for years,” says Teston, “but I do think the iPad would be helpful because you can use your finger and expand on images and view them in much greater detail, share images and walk from room to room or take the data home to study.”

Though the iPad represents a revolution in data consumption and technological ease, Teston believes fewer students rely on tablets today than netbooks or laptops for their primary computing device. But that is changing. A tablet augmented with a bluetooth keyboard gives the student the best of both worlds. Others fear that tablet technology will only add to the noise of classrooms, where teachers are already competing with talkative students, laptops, netbooks and smart phones. “If you were to take a straw poll among faculty, I think many are concerned about the potential distraction that comes with a tablet,” Teston says. “You can look up a concept instantaneously while it is being taught, but at the same time the tablet proves to be a constant temptation since students seem to hit Facebook whenever they get bored, and they may not realize how much they are missing.”

With 52 million tablets expected to ship in 2011 alone, it is clear that tablets, for better or for worse, are taking off in chiropractic offices as well as classrooms. Mark Dehen, D.C.,president of Dehen Chiropractic in North Mankato, Minn., can recall a time when he wrote every post-adjustment patient note with pen and paper. “I’m not very good at keyboarding, so now I use voice recognition software in my practice,” he says. “Digital technology has allowed me to create a more detailed record than I used to have when I started practicing and I had to write everything in a notebook.”

In his modern Minnesota office, Dehen is currently researching certified electronic health record software systems that track Medicare reimbursements. In an effort to lower health care costs by digitizing all health records by 2015, the federal government is offering a $44,000 reimbursement for doctors, hospitals, chiropractors and physical therapists who purchase certified digital software.

The digital record movement is likely to be enacted with the help of tablet computers that can act as a mobile medical file system for chiropractors as they move from room to room and patient to patient. “Practitioners will have software they can fill in with just a few clicks and they can circle areas and add pages of patient notes,” Teston says. “On a tablet they’ll be able to pull up X-rays and spine images, call up insurance information at a moment’s notice or flip through a patient’s files either at home or after a long work day.”

Teston also estimates that the modern chiropractic office will require a lot more infrastructure beyond the traditional adjusting table. “Offices of the future will have electronic record-keeping systems, software for insurance reporting, a secure network that meets HIPAA standards, digital X-ray technology and a server on site to hold all their data because images take up a lot of space.”

Though a long way from chiropractic’s earliest days in Davenport, Iowa, Teston and other experts believe this costly digital revolution will begin to pay large dividends. “The good news is that you can do a lot of analytics with all that data,” Teston says. “You can track patient and care trends, figure out where you spend the most time and discover what your most effective care options are for patients who present certain kinds of symptoms.” By creating an enormous bank of data, chiropractors will be able to guess with a high percentage of certainty the options and outcomes for patients of a certain age, who are presenting with certain kinds of symptoms.

“I think the advantage of electronic health records will be tracking more patients and using software to create apps and algorithms that search for trends in clinical data,” Dehen says. “Everything is moving toward being able to access patient records from any location, and electronic health records will create a real-time, clinical-based research platform that can harness the power of the chiropractic office to provide more accurate research data and care options.”

While it seems clear that a digital, paperless world is the wave of the future, many experts believe that the best way to alleviate growing pains is to seamlessly incorporate new technology into the chiropractic office and classroom. “I have some concerns about people doing too much data entry on their tablet during a patient encounter,” says Dehen. “I know that can be rude and distracting so I try to record my notes after each patient visit.” Teston also believes that the introduction of the tablet in Chiropractic must be a gradual, seamless process. “I can see how an older patient might react if a doctor is always looking down at his tablet, but I think most people won’t mind as long as the chiropractor is proficient in the technology and not fumbling around and looking awkward, because that can start to erode patient confidence.”

Whether downloading a podcast, viewing a lecture remotely, typing observational notes or showing a patient his neck strain in X-ray form, Altikulac sees a bright future for tablet technology in both the classroom and the office. “It’s very interesting,” he says. “If you compare medical practices before the dawn of computer technology in the 1980s to now, it’s a totally different world. I think there will be an even greater distinction between now and the tablet world of the future. There will be no designated work stations—we’ll have electronic medical records and everything will be in the doctors’ hands, which will allow for much faster diagnoses and better care.”