Iltifat Husain, left, and James O’Neill use cloud computing at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Photo: Wake Forest



Doctors love their iPads — even more than you might think.

Over in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a group of more than 60 doctors have revamped their mobile phones and iPads for use in emergency departments across the region with a little help from a familiar application: the popular file-sharing services. Using Box, they’ve built a new system that lets them share procedures, journal articles and — perhaps most importantly — conversations.

It’s a small step, but doctors like Iltifat Husain at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center love the thing.

Husain is a big advocate of mobile devices. He edits a website for iPad-loving doctors But the collaborative cloud computing thing really clicked for Husain — an emergency medicine resident physician at Wake Forest — when he was still testing the service back in October. He was at a remote emergency room in Greensboro, North Carolina, where a patient came in with fluid on the belly. Husain needed to perform a procedure called an abdominal paracentesis to drain the fluid. It’s not the kind of procedure that most doctors do every day, so Husain gave himself a quick refresher on the procedure.

A year earlier, this would have meant trudging over to the ER’s workstation and looking up a PDF on the hospital’s intranet. Instead, he tapped open the Box software on his mobile phone and looked it up right there.

It saved maybe a handful of minutes. But for Husain, minutes count. “In the ER, the faster I can do something, the more time I can spend with other patients,” he says.

Doctors may be the people who change our lives most profoundly with cutting-edge science and drugs, but the sad truth is that medicine is only just starting to enter the digital era, says Eric J.Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and the author of, Creative Destruction of Medicine, a 2012 book about how digital technology is changing health care. “Medicine is ultra-conservative, historically.”

But it’s also an area that’s most primed for change. As the digital walls go down, doctors are becoming better about sharing information with their patients, and with other doctors.

Last year, a startup called Doximity launched a kind of social network for doctors — letting them share information, ask each other questions, and even provide referrals. It now has more than 100,000 doctors.

At Wake Forest, the Box set-up isn’t a full-fledged social network. It’s a document sharing workhorse. And with hundreds of journal articles and procedures — all uploaded, available via mobile phone and set up for comments — the system has in just a few short months become an important tool for the doctors who use it.

More than that, it’s also a great learning tool for residents, says James O’Neill, an M.D. and assistant professor with the hospital’s department of emergency medicine.

Online discussions have enhanced the residents monthly “Journal Club” meetings, where doctors meet do discuss the latest medical research. The system gives them an easy-to-use discussion platform where doctors and residents can debate what works and what does not work, direct from the emergency department. “When the residents find something that works for them, they can get it up there,” O’Neill says.

“We’ve been able to create this community in the cloud among residents,” says Husain. “You can literally have free flowing comments using Box, which really has the potential to change the way medical education is done.”

Topol says that this kind of social document sharing is only the beginning of a bigger shift that he’d like to see as the medical profession takes a cue from everyone else on the Internet and becomes better about collaborating and sharing information. “It’s a nice baby step, but it’s not a giant thing in the way that medicine is going to be shifting,” he says.

“We just have to take the walls down and we haven’t even started to do that yet.”


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