It was not long after the March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown came upon us that I quickly realised how reliant we were going to be on digital technologies, at least for the near future.

Working as a GP, this involved dramatic changes to our usual working patterns, which included significantly more remote consultations with our patients, facilitated by video or telephone. In addition, we rapidly needed additional software to work with our clinical systems, new hardware (laptops and webcams) and remarkable changes to our traditional workflows. One of the big administrative changes was the cessation of face to face meetings with our colleagues in primary care teams and moving these events like practice meetings, onto video platforms such as Zoom.

Although we could use our smartphones for video chat team meetings, I much prefer a larger screen but my old iPad was barely up to it. So this realisation precipitated me (amongst other reasons) into jumping into the deep end as I treated myself to a new iPad air along with the associated Smart Keyboard.

I was already a well established iPhone user and so used to Apple mobile products. I am also aware that Apple merchandise is not cheap; they are premium products and have an associated premium price tag. So, I decided to splash out and buy both of these products and I was not disappointed with the result though it did leave my bank balance a little depleted. I have sometimes used the iPad for video meetings with administrative and clinical teams but not with patients (I did not want them to have access to my private contact details).

Of course, the big difference between a phone (in my case the iPhone) and the tablet (in this case the iPad) is screen size and to a lesser extent, the sound is superior on the iPad. Of course, the trade off is size and portability but the iPad (plus the Smart Keyboard) is pretty portable. Using Zoom via the iPad (or similar video software) for some of the clinical team meetings became a lot easier and it was not just the bigger screen. It also became easier to see who was (and also not) attending the Zoom meeting. Being a new device, the picture on the iPad is sharper and the sound quality is better (compared to my previous iPad) and overall this new iPad affords a much better user experience.

Staying up to date with medical research and news

Zoom (or similar video software) meetings are here to stay (not just in primary care) and when suitable, using the iPad is simple and highly functional. Of course, it is not just video chats that I use on the iPad, I can watch medical videos, listen to medical podcasts, or look up trusted online clinical reference sources as part of my professional activity. Helped by the keyboard, I can also work on long documents whilst on the move, having access to a variety of useful (and often free) software.

The iPad is a great device for reading both for pleasure and for professional purposes. I have apps on my iPad for medical journals, medical books and the browser can be bookmarked for useful primary care websites such as Clinical Knowledge Summaries.

On the move, the iPad and keyboard combination makes it quite simple to pick up my emails (work and personal) and having the keyboard means I can quickly respond with ease. The iPad is highly responsive and brilliantly depicts medical journals, newspapers or any other appropriate literature on the easy to read screen. There is the added bonus that there is no delay in waiting for journals to arrive in the post.

New digital editions of medical journals such as the British Medical Journal were available on the iPad app promptly. My new iPad has made me prefer reading medical literature on a screen and I am slowly weaning off paper. My iPad screen size is 10.5 inches and the sharpness and size of the screen makes reading easy and almost effortless.

The iPad has built in wifi which I use most of the time and if I need connectivity away from wifi, I simply “hotspot” from my iPhone which usually I have with me anyway. However this means you should have a healthy data package to allow you to comfortably to “hotspot.” Just as crucial (certainly to me) to fulfil the full functionality of the iPad, is having the Smart Keyboard which is cleverly designed to work in tandem with the iPad. The Smart Keyboard uses magnets to connect and bond with the iPad and does not require independent charging. Also unlike Bluetooth, there is no pairing to be done, just connect the Smart Keyboard to the iPad and type away, it is that simple.

Again, via the slick use of magnets the keyboard can quickly convert the iPad into a laptop like configuration with a fully functional keyboard which is easy to use. For me, this is far better than the virtual keyboard built into the screen of the iPad and using the real keyboard disables the on-screen virtual keyboard.

Cleverly, the keyboard can also fold into itself and this configuration forms a protective cover for the screen. This combined unit can easily be transported and is generally much lighter and smaller than a laptop. I tend to carry around the folded keyboard protecting the iPad unit within a small carry case for added protection. I personally prefer this combination to a laptop though of course, a laptop does have its own benefits.

There are a huge number of apps and accessories that can turn an iPad into a fantastic device which can support the work of a healthcare professional. In my opinion, the Smart Keyboard, significantly enhances the functionality of the device and its portability should be a boon to many.

I have only scratched the surface on what the iPad and the portable keyboard can do for me professionally (or for that matter any tablet device can do) and if you any suggestions, we would be delighted to hear from you. 

Dr Harry Brown is a GP, Leeds and medical editor of GM Journal

Conflict of interest: none