Tablet to treat what ails you
Clinical psychologist Les Posen uses iPads to help people overcome their fear of flying. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove
AMONG the dusty grey cells within my skull, I harbour the thought that humanity's enthusiasm for the iPad should surprise no one. Homo sapiens have used tablets for millenniums. Moses had several and, despite the continuing frailty of our species, they're still operational.
Initially iPads were seen as consumer devices, but were quickly adopted for more serious purposes, such as education and healthcare. Educational apps grew from the demand of schools, but healthcare has always been in the iPad's DNA, perhaps because Steve Jobs, the first to clearly see what a tablet should be, was passionately interested in medical science.
So access to sophisticated medical software via iPad apps appeared quite quickly. For example, at hospital bedsides, they provided instant access (via wireless links in hospitals and clinics) to a patient's history and treatment, as well as instant updates of the data held in healthcare computer systems.
Now, says Les Posen, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist and internationally known exponent of the iPad's capabilities, the device is revolutionising the work of psychologists through specialised apps for the treatment of mental and emotional disorders.
Posen, who specialises in the treatment of fear of flying, says his iPad is an essential companion on flights with his patients, who carry iPads into which Posen loads notes and exercises to be used at home or during travel. He carries patient records, tests and other documents in his own iPad, along with apps used in treatments.
''It's more efficient and capable, especially on a long international flight, and more engaging for the patient,'' he says. Posen also spreads the iPad gospel through workshops for professional societies and via his podcasts and blogs.
In his private life, he is the president of iMUG, the Internet Macintosh User Group - one of two Apple user clubs in Melbourne - and is also an expert in the use of Keynote, Apple's presentation software - a skill that has taken him to meet Apple's Keynote development team in the US.
''Initially, people used the iPad for financial records and case notes; then, after all Australian psychology boards came under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, to record data required by Medicare,'' he says.
''But iPad use has also grown because a younger group of practitioners is now entering the profession.'' And developers are responding.
''The number of apps available and input from psychologists has increased significantly,'' Posen says. ''Some of the more complex concepts, such as cognitive therapy, I now introduce through a combination of apps and multimedia.''
Traditionally, therapists used paper forms for homework assignments. Often patients didn't keep records properly, and it meant double handling to enter data into the clinic's system. With an iPad, it's uploaded or emailed from wherever the patient happens to be.
''Patients are more likely to do between-session tasks, which is where the real learning and habit-changing takes place,'' he says. ''The iPad is changing the way psychologists provide their therapy.''
Most of these apps also run on iPhones, so a patient can make notes in, say, a mood diary while in a group at a dinner table without exciting curiosity.
Bluetooth wristbands are now available that automatically record heart rates or movement during sleep and transmit the data to an iPad or iPhone.
Apps based on desktop applications that have been in use for many years to measure heart and breathing rates are now appearing as apps for iPhone and iPad. One, called Heart Map (to be released in the US in February), will help patients regulate stress caused by their reaction to, say, turbulence during a flight, or for calming elite athletes before a contest, Posen says.
''It's about taking the focus away from the non-relevant. The military in a number of countries use such techniques to help soldiers under fire,'' he says.
Several blood-pressure and other health-monitoring apps are in the iTunes App Store. Most are free.
Some require the purchase of cables or, for the blood-pressure apps, cuffs that connect to a dock on which the iPhone sits to record the data. Some allow the transmission of data to Microsoft's HealthVault.
In the end, Posen says, it's all about a basic rule: ''If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.''