When internist Nitin Patel called up Microsoft in May to rave about its Surface Pro tablet, Dennis Schmuland, the company’s head of health strategy for U.S. Health & Life Sciences, was taken aback. “I was surprised, because he was so excited,” says Schmuland. “We didn’t solicit this.”
Microsoft is elated by Patel’s call. While physicians’ use of tablets is widespread—72% according to Manhattan Research, more than half of the nearly 3,000 physicians it surveyed, used Apple iPad in the first quarter of 2013. Microsoft released Surface RT last year, and Surface Pro this past February. According to IDC, shipments of Surface amounted to 900,000 units in this year’s first quarter. It has a long way to catch up with the iPad, which commands nearly 40% of the tablet market. “We’re not getting any requests from doctors to build on it [Surface],” says Daniel Kivatinos, a founder of drchrono which provides an electronic health record specifically for the iPad. Also, a 128 GB Surface Pro retails for $999, versus $799 for an iPad.
Patel who doubles as a geek-in-chief at Palmetto Health, one of the largest hospital systems in South Carolina, tried the iPad. He disliked the wait to log into a patient’s chart, the small screen, and the lack of keyboard, among other things. On a Friday afternoon, he drove over to a Best Buy in Columbia, and bought Surface Pro, keeping the receipt. He didn’t return it. Patel was immediately impressed by its speed to access a patient’s chart, and its compatibility with Cerner electronic health record which Palmetto uses throughout its hospitals and clinics. Patel says he now sees two more patients per day as a result.
William Jennings, Palmetto’s medical informatics officer, was initially skeptical, but Surface won over other doctors. “We’re providing an environment where physicians pick what they want. We want technology to work for us not the other way around,” says Jennings. Palmetto just started a three to six month pilot with 30 physicians, including obstetricians and surgeons, who will use Surface on loan from Microsoft, in their every day practice. The goal is to measure patient and physician satisfaction, as well as impact on productivity, which typically drops when medical providers go digital.
“What Palmetto has proven is that you can run Windows 8 or 7, and have the full features of an electronic health record,” says Schmuland, not a lighter version usually offered on an iPad. If so, that would address major complaints by untethering doctors from their desktops, and allowing them to interact more freely with their patients. He says Microsoft is talking to several electronic health record vendors, including Cerner, Epic, and Allscripts about developing applications.
Schmuland doesn’t know how many doctors are using Surface, but he’s starting to hear more anecdotes, such as Palmetto’s. “This is an early wave indicator that Windows 8 is resonating with the industry,” he says.
Microsoft sent a crew to Columbia, South Carolina, to film doctors at Palmetto using Surface Pro. Check it out.