Blog | Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three reasons why doctors lament the death of Steve Jobs

Doctors love their Apple products. Just walk into any hospital ward, and see the types of mobile devices we are using. At weekly Grand Rounds conferences, you see plenty of iPads in use. At physician meetings, the laptop of choice is often the Macbook Pro. The data backs these anecdotal examples as well.

Doctors love their Apple Products and Steve Jobs was obviously an extension of these products, often times cited as the singular force behind them. It's why physicians who love his products mourn his passing.

There are three specific reasons why:
Simplicity. In medicine, we deal with enough complexity. Knowing disease pathology and the mechanism of various illnesses and their treatments is a fascinating exercise, but it's taxing. For every known in medicine, there are at least five unknowns. It's what makes being a physician exciting, but stressful as well. We're always on high alert, especially those of us who practice in the critical care arena.

Juxtaposed to this is our personal life arena, which doesn't consist of beeping monitors, abnormal vital signs, and dying patients. We want the technology we use to be easy to understand, and simple to use. Simplicity is something we appreciate due to the complexity of our profession.

We appreciate simplicity even more because of the software we use in a hospital setting. Ask any physician about their electronic medical record, or even the software on the medical devices they use. It's a functional experience, but not a fun one. The $60,000 ultrasound machine I often use in the emergency room, while extremely functional and allowing me to make the proper diagnoses, has a horrid user interface. These types of experiences give us an appreciation for uncomplicated.

Simple is good for us. Simple is nice. Simple is fun. Simple is a relief.

Solid Build Quality. As I mentioned above, the software on many of the devices we use is not optimal, but usually, the same cannot be said for the hardware we use. The hardware we use in the surgical arena, or even to do invasive procedures at the bedside is of solid build quality. It has to be, hence the phrase "medical grade". Peoples' lives depend on the integrity of the hardware we use. As physicians, we appreciate this same medical grade feel extending to our personal tools.

The feeling of a Macbook Pro confers this. Just compare the aluminum unibody hardware build to the majority of plastic casing laptops. It's a completely different experience. This type of comparison extends into the smartphone and tablet arena as well. The iPad and iPhone 4 have a clearly superior build quality than their competitors

Uniformity. This has some overlaps with the first reason, but the key message here is that if you know how to use an iPhone, you know how to use an iPad. Jobs was a genius at understanding that uniformity is key for adoption. As physicians, we lack free time. We don't want to sit down for hours and figure out the intricacies of an operating system. We don't want to root a mobile phone (Android), just so we can take off the silly skins that a manufacturer throws on so that we can get a better user experience.

A better user experience shouldn't have to be manufactured by the end user. It should be manufactured by the device maker, which is something that Jobs understood well. As he would often say, we want something that "just works."

Jobs was an incredible innovator, whose vision was nothing short of changing the way we do everything. His legacy, though impressive now, is sure to only grow as things like the nascent mHealth industry, which he helped spark, begin to mature.

Some of our favorite posts on how Jobs' vision is changing medicine:

Future Uses for the iPad in the Operating Room: a Game Changer ?
Stanford School of Medicine is giving the iPad to all incoming medical students
Apple's New iPad 2 Commercial Prominently Features Medical Apps
Connect Your Stethoscope to Your iPhone, Thinklabs's Stethoscope Medical App – 3M/Zargis Not Far Behind

For more on his life and legacy, check out the following:
New York Times - an in-depth look at his entire career
Apple - share your own thoughts and memories
Engadget - a great list of quotes from throughout his life

This post by Iltifat Husain, MD, appeared at Get Better Health, a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.