Apple iPad Prepares Nurse Practitioner for House Calls

Hurricane Katrina survivor Dr. Scharmaine Lawson-Baker, a nurse practitioner in New Orleans, makes house calls with the help of her Apple iPad and Practice Fusion EHR application.

In 2005, nurse practitioner Dr. Scharmaine Lawson-Baker lost her office building to Hurricane Katrina, but before evacuating to San Antonio, she was able to save most of her patients' records on her Pocket PC PDA.

Lawson-Baker, who holds a DNP (doctor of nursing practice) degree, uses the Apple iPad to make 10 house calls a today to senior and disabled patients as owner of Advanced Clinical Consultants in New Orleans.

"Basically, I'm providing primary care in the home without the patient ever leaving," Lawson-Baker told eWEEK. "That's a major blessing for someone who's 96 or 97 who can't get out. So I bring it all to them high-tech."

Lawson-Baker's iPad runs Practice Fusion's free EHR (electronic health record) application to keep track of patients' health data and allow them to view their lab results.

"Scharmaine is a health care hero," Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion, said in a statement. "She is leading the charge with medical technology to support her community and deliver the highest quality of care to patients."

eWEEK spoke with Lawson-Baker to find out how the iPad running Practice Fusion's EHR application enables her to make house calls to her patients' homes.

eWEEK: Do you see the iPad as a trend for house call providers?

Lawson-Baker: Oh yeah, I do. I think it's going to be something that's catching on, because the iPad is very light, it's easy to carry, it's pretty easy to maneuver and use when you're in the home. In most of those situations when you're in the home, less is best. You need something that's more compact, something that's light, something that's easy to take out and easy to get going with and use. In a nutshell, you're on the front lines of health care when you make house calls.

It just helps so much with functionality, when you're able to make something appear, make something get bigger, make something get smaller. So those are things I use a lot, especially with the magnification of vital signs. I use that function a lot with my elderly patients because their vision is poor. So you need to increase the font rather quickly. The way you can expand something, make it smaller, with your fingers, it's great.

I think my oldest patient now is 102. They need to be able to see big words and big letters. So I increase the magnification, and they can see it.

eWEEK: How does using the iPad compare with rugged models?

Lawson-Baker: I have one of those [Panasonic] ToughBooks. I went with the iPad because it was lighter and not as bulky. If you get the right carrying case for your iPad, you have the same protection.

I have a case that stands up and pretty much covers the entire iPad, so if I drop it, if I spill something on it, it's just as durable without having all the bulkiness. Don't get me wrong, I love my Panasonic ToughBook. It's great, but it's a little thick and bulky.

eWEEK: How much are you using the EHR application versus the patients?

Lawson-Baker: I'm showing them their vitals, and I'm letting them see their lab work. If I have some X-ray reports, I'm showing them their radiology reports and any other type of diagnostic type results I may have. They're looking at that, but as far as them actually doing anything else on the screen, no, we don't have that capability just yet.

eWEEK: What features in the Practice Fusion EHR have been helpful to you?

Lawson-Baker: I like that the whole product is Web-based. If my staff has some orders or lab work or something they need me to see that's come in on a particular patient, then I can get them to scan it in, and while I'm in the field I can pull it up immediately as long as I have an Internet connection.

The other function is e-prescribing. I'm able to electronically prescribe all of my prescriptions. A lot of my patients are not able to get out of the home, so they don't have transportation. Being able to e-prescribe or send a prescription electronically is a lifesaver for many of them because they don't have transportation. So I send the prescription electronically, and then I have a local pharmacy who delivers the medicine.

One of the other features I like about Practice Fusion is you can do live chat. It's kind of like instant messaging. If you have a question or issue, you can just pop up the little box and go on live chat. That's a feature I've never experienced before where you can get instant help.

If you've got something major like your system's out, that really takes a little more time and you may need to open a ticket or go on a queue for something like that. If it's something really small, like I keep getting an error message, EMRs should make themselves available.