Deciphering the Jargon: What does iOS 6 hold for medical computing?

IOS6

Depending on where your interests lie, you may have watched Apple’s WWDC 2012 keynote speech, the presentation that marks the opening of their annual week-long developer conference in San Francisco. Those that didn’t may be asking ‘why should I care?’ Since two members of the Black Pear Team were present at the conference, we would like to answer that question by giving a brief rundown of three new features on the horizon, and focusing on what they could bring to medical computing. Since myHealthFile is primarily aimed at portable solutions, we will be looking specifically at changes to iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad.

Most people know something about the iOS world already, and many may even be reading this post on an iOS device. Undeniably, these devices have altered what we expect from portable electronics, both in terms of features and user experience. There are several features you get ‘for free’ by using iOS as your platform: your users are untied from their desks with cellular internet, are safe in the knowledge that application sandboxing keeps their data safe, and benefit from Apple’s highly intuitive interface design that lets users work with, not in spite of, their devices. Black Pear Software’s aim with myHealthFile was to leverage this power and usability to shift expectations about the way we interact with medical systems.

Usability is the backbone to Apple’s design philosophy, and they provide developers with a great range of tools to carry that ease of use into their own applications. Users of iRIS, our ophthalmic care application, pick up the system astoundingly quickly, and are seeing more patients each day thanks to their improved workflow. Factors like staff training times are considerably reduced, and the interface is so easy to pick up that PROMs feedback is even entered by patients themselves. When we see users following patients through eye chart tests, tapping the corresponding letters on their iPads to score them, it is difficult to imagine them working as efficiently with any other system. Beyond simple interface logistics, though, what new features are we going to see in the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system?

Passbook

Passbook is Apple’s approach to streamlining the move from paper tickets to digital ones. With the advent of digital boarding passes, loyalty cards and film tickets, the hassle, waste and expense of printing out paper passes seems like something of an anachronism. However, as more and more companies start to go digital, it has become harder and to keep track of where these tickets are being stored. Some companies have opted for individual apps, which quickly clutters devices and requires irritating setup times, while others send emails that quickly get buried over time, making getting to that ticket needlessly difficult. Passbook is not made for organisation only, though. E-tickets can be linked to locations and times, so arriving at your local coffee shop can bring up your loyalty card for easy access, and your film ticket will appear in much the same way when its starting time draws near.

myHealthFile already uses QR code scanning for security purposes, so the possibility of a faster, digitised appointment check-in for clinics is no longer restricted to the realms of sci-fi. A distinct advantage of QR codes is their ‘media-agnostic’ nature: while iOS users will benefit from locational alerts and improved ease of check-in, those who still wish to use printouts can continue to do so.

Turn-by-turn navigation

iOS has always provided powerful mapping integration in their developer tools, integration that has allowed Black Pear to hone the process of looking up patient’s address on a map from a multi-stepped hassle to a single touch. However, iOS has always been lacking the final step: full-featured turn-by-turn GPS navigation. With iOS 6, Apple is poised to replace the in-car sat nav with the iPhone and, judging by the fact they’ve partnered with TomTom to do so, it has every chance of doing just that. For myHealthFile, this means visiting patients will consist of loading their record, tapping their address, and mounting your iPhone on your windscreen. Understandably, we’re excited about the impact this will have on industry professionals. As the iOS maps system improves, we look forward to the possibility of features like shortest route calculations for multi-patient visits as well as intelligent statistic gathering for clinics based on location.

Guided Access

One new feature that failed to generate much media hype is ‘guided access,’ a new addition to the iOS accessibility options that allows device owners to ‘lock down’ what users can do with the device. For example, issues can easily arise when handing the device over to patients: home and lock buttons can accidentally be pressed, a brush against the screen can send the application off to the wrong screen, and so on. Guided access is Apple’s solution to this problem. Enabling guided access opens up options like disabling the home and lock buttons, and device owners can draw an area on the screen that the patient should not be able to use (guided access intelligently works out what you’re trying to disable from your drawing). For instance, if patients have to fill out a PROMs form, disabling the navigation bar at the top will stop users from leaving this screen, eliminating any chance of accidental, workflow-breaking input. We think this will enable professionals to involve patients in their treatment in a risk-free manner. When linked with systems like Passbook, guided access creates options like a patient self check-in system that would previously have been a risky proposition.

Application features are only worth adding if people will use them, and iOS’s advancements look set to add more functionality with no additional learning curve. While iOS has always had an intuitive interface, the newest update largely focuses on streamlining day-to-day tasks, rather than letting technology create even more clutter in people’s lives. iOS 6 launches this Autumn, we hope you keep watching to see what amazing things we’ll be doing with it.