The iPad's Potential in Medical Research Administration and College Education

After three weeks of hands-on experience with an iPad, I see its potential in healthcare and as an aid for the business student. This article will touch on how the iPad helps me at work and in school. I'll also discuss some of my favorite (and not so favorite) apps and look at the limitations of the device.

Medical research administration

I'm a medical research administrator for two clinical research programs at a large medical center, and I supervise program and administrative teams. Logistics associated with research at large facilities favors mobility, and I've depended on a variety of mobile devices to keep me connected and productive since 1993. 

Conducting research responsibly and ethically requires synchronization of many interdependent processes associated with a project, from proposal through completion. The main goals are to protect patients and their privacy while simultaneously protecting the confidentiality of proprietary information with which we interact in this highly regulated industry. Research administration requires deep knowledge and a broad range of skills; variety is part of the fun, and juggling is part of the challenge. My job is to assure project flow and integrity from the moment we receive a research proposal through the moment we close out the project. Most research programs handle several projects at once, and it falls to dedicated teams of research professionals to keep things moving and well coordinated.

Over the course of the day, I problem-solve; use Word to develop reports, applications, procedures, and workflow outlines; use Excel to develop budgets, analyze financial and operational performance, and implement financial controls; use Excel and Visio to finalize workflows; use PowerPoint to create an occasional presentation; and use Outlook Exchange to respond to e-mails. I participate in Web-based conferences about once a week and spend about two hours or more a day working away from my desk. I work with our central grants office to facilitate agreements and with our research compliance office to make sure we have permission to begin projects. Items requiring action come from all directions, funneled through e-mail. We are also required to update our educational requirements on-line. Our organization provides access to a variety of on-line educational resources, references, and to the electronic databases of our medical library.

A laptop replacement

Three weeks ago my laptop and iPhone accompanied me everywhere. The iPad changed that overnight. Now my laptop stays anchored to my desk. Most of my work is still completed using a laptop, but my iPad, connected to a Bluetooth keyboard, takes over when I'm working away from my desk and need more than an iPhone but less than a laptop to stay productive. The minute I park my car, my iPad connects to our Intranet and I can connect to a variety of secure Web-based and Intranet-based applications. Carrying an iPad and peripherals along with some folders, journals, and a set of headphones is far lighter than carrying a 3-pound laptop, with peripherals, folders and other extras.

Great battery life; flexible Bluetooth

My first surprise was that Apple delivered on its claim of excellent battery life. The iPad's battery gets me through a full day of intermittent use with power to spare. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are always on while I work on a range of projects and tasks, and at the end of a 10-hour workday, I still have 60% of the battery capacity left. My iPhone battery lasts longer because the iPad takes over many of its tasks. I always carry mobile rechargeable batteries (APC, Kensington, Lenmar, iGo) for my mobile devices. I found that they won't charge a dead iPad, but the trickle charge from a mobile battery can slow the power drain. My second surprise was that the iPad's Bluetooth connectivity wasn't limited to the Apple's Bluetooth keyboard. So, I switch between Apple's keyboard and my old Palm Bluetooth folding keyboard; both work equally well.

Powerful information management

Like the iPhone, the iPad comes with strong personal information management software. Linked to Exchange servers, they are powerful business tools for staying organized.

iPad-CalendarMy favorite is the Calendar app, which has the visual appearance of a hard copy day book. A summary of the day's appointments and events appears on the left side in list view, and an hourly datebook view on the right. It's curious that Apple doesn't have a task manager that integrates with Calendar. For now, this void is filled by Things ($19.99;, which tracks projects and tasks within projects along with due dates, but doesn't integrate with Calendar. I have the same app on my iPhone and look forward to the upcoming update that will allow Wi-Fi synchronization between the two devices. Right now they can only be synchronized through a Mac.

Calendar's day book appearance 
makes it easier to stay on top of my schedule.

I rely on a small number of apps for work because I can manage most of my work when mobile using our Intranet's secure Web apps. Although many projects and tasks require a laptop, I can write, plan, and outline workflows and presentation ideas on the iPad. Access to the Internet, e-mail, and other online resources can be facilitated by either device.

Working with documents

PagesDependence on Microsoft Office creates a critical need for Office-compatible mobile apps. Although documents in iWork are beautiful, these apps can be disappointing in a non-creative business environment. The three apps—Pages ($9.99;, Numbers ($9.99;, and Keynote ($9.99;—are geared to Mac users with iWork 2009. PC users will find little to love about Numbers and Keynote because they are the least compatible with their Excel and PowerPoint counterparts. Pages, the Word counterpart, is the most compatible and is great for straight text. Fonts and formatting, particularly tables, might get lost or distorted in the conversion to or from the .doc format. The other two apps can only be exported in their native formats or PDF. The suite lacks direct printing and exporting to e-mail is the best way to transfer documents to a computer for printing.

The first draft of this article and my final papers in Marketing and Global Business courses, each approaching 25 pages, were written in Pages on the iPad using a Bluetooth keyboard. The papers included cover sheets and references and retained their formatting. My Global Business presentation didn't fare as well. The presentation, created in Keynote, was gorgeous but it was trapped in the iPad. The only way to convert it to PowerPoint for tweaking was to use a Mac at a local Apple Store to download, convert, and upload the document to a flash drive. Opened in Windows, the converted document needed a lot of formatting but was salvageable. The end result was professional but lacked the Keynote sparkle.

WSJDocumentsToGoThe iPhone version of DataViz's Documents To Go ($9.99; is great; it's fully compatible with Office and uses the iPhone's Wi-Fi to transport documents between the iPhone and computer without resorting to e-mails. The iPhone version will run on the iPad, but it doesn't render well on the iPad at 2x resolution. I'm waiting for the iPad version, which is due out with the next update of the program.I use PDF Reader Pro ($3.99; to download Web content to the iPad, including PDF versions of magazine subscriptions and resources for school and work. The Wall Street Journal (free; allows me to access my Wall Street Journal subscription, including a seven day archive, on the go. It also lets me save articles and sections to an online server. Go to Meeting (free; lets me participate in Web conferences anywhere, anytime.

I use The Wall Street Journal app (right) to access my WSJ subscription.

Business AddictI also use a couple of news aggregators including Business Addict ($0.99; and Tech Addict ($0.99; Both are iPhone apps, but they are more legible on the iPad than other text-based apps. TechAddictOne of my favorite apps is Audiobooks ($0.99;, which bypasses the iPod menus to access Audible books and podcasts more directly. I downloaded a printing app, Print n Share ($6.99;, but haven't used it to print. It works well to wirelessly transport documents between my iPad and laptop using Wi-Fi from both devices, but it comes with a learning curve. Finally, Nuance's Dragon Dictation (free; is great for voice notes.

I use the Business Addict and TechAddict aggregators to stay abreast of news I'm interested in.

At school

I'm also a business student at a West Coast university and benefitted from having an iPad at the end of the last trimester. The university provides students with access to the university's electronic resources, including e-mail and Blackboard, a central virtual space through which professors and students communicate and materials can be uploaded and downloaded. We can also access the university's extensive electronic library, including books and journal articles—imagine being able to access most major journals from their first issues to the most current ones! Kindle readerUnfortunately, I could not access these resources on campus because the iPad was still too new, but I was able to access all University resources anywhere I had an Internet connection off campus without having to boot up my laptop. The implications in education are easy to see. I'm able to read online books, access and read journals, and do homework and projects.

My favorite apps for school are the Kindle Reader (free; and Wikipanion (free; Kindle Reader lets me download electronic textbooks from Amazon and it synchronizes reading progress between supported devices. Wikipanion makes full use of the iPad display for Wikipedia content without the space eating menus and sidebars.

Kindle Reader (left) lets me download eBooks from

Two of my Global Business textbooks, The Mystery of Capital and Leviathians were available for the iPad, but I didn't have my iPad when the class started so I used a Sony Reader to lighten my load. The dedicated readers and the iPad offer different user experiences and are subject to personal preference.

MystGraphic intensive iPhone apps render well on the iPad, including games. My downtime favorites, Myst ($4.99;, Shanghai MahJongShanghai MahJong ($0.99;, and Sudoku Tablet (free; are a pleasure to look at. ABC Player (free; lets me catch up on the occasional TV show, and Vexed (free; is an old favorite puzzle game originally made for the Palm.

In my downtime I relax playing Myst (left), and MahJong (right).

iBooks shelfOne of my favorite downtime activities is reading. Barnes and Noble's B&N eReader (free; is my favorite eBook reader because of the size of its library. Unfortunately, the iPhone version doesn't render well on the iPad; I'm waiting for B&N to upgrade it for the iPad. Apple's iBooks (free; is an outstanding app that displays books beautifully. The two-page view is accessed by rotating the iPad to landscape mode. It replicates the page turning experience perfectly, but the default backlight level is too bright for me. iBooks shelfFortunately, iBooks has an easily accessible backlight level control in the upper-right corner of the page. Apple's library is small but growing by the week; some books cost more than I am used to paying through other book sellers. Finally, there is the issue of incompatible DRMs. Apple uses a version of the ePub standard for its books. This is supposed to be the new de-facto eBook standard, but because of DRM differences is not compatible across all eReader platforms. For example, Adobe's ePub format is used by a growing number of eBook sellers but is not compatible with iBooks.

iBooks' bookshelf view (left); iBooks' landscape book view (right)

A resounding success—in spite of its limitations

What the iPad does well, it does very well. However, its limitations can be very frustrating. The ones that most impact me are its lack of: direct printing and the ability to transfer documents between the iPad and computer without resorting to clouds and e-mail. I'd also like to see a file structure for folders, the ability to map and use shared network drives, and tighter Office compatibility with integration for both Windows and Mac users. Users should also be able to create documents or content in folders anywhere on the device or on a secure network drive. Last on my wish list is the ability to use my Magic Mouse with my iPad (it works with my Windows laptop!).

The iPad is a very sophisticated device with a lot of potential. It remains to be seen how far outside the technological envelope end users will push the iPad and how far Apple will let us go. On the corporate front, customization of the iPad by corporate and academic IT departments may be other game changers. But even as a work in progress, the iPad is a resounding success.

Sept/Oct 2010
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