PDAs put the whole ward in your hand

February 25, 2004

The use of PDAs by physicians increased from 47% to 67% in just one year from 2001 to 2002, according to a 2002 American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine survey. A similar survey conducted by the American Academy of

The use of PDAs by physicians increased from 47% to 67% in just one year from 2001 to 2002, according to a 2002 American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine survey.

A similar survey conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 38% percent of respondents were using PDAs routinely in their practice. Projected use by 2005 was 64%.

"Hospitals are perfect place for PDAs," said Dr. John Hong, director of the internal medicine residency program at Georgetown University Hospital, in a HIMSS education session Wednesday.

Physicians are finding many uses for PDAs: pharmacology references, normal lab value references, medical texts, medical calculator, billing and coding reference. PDAs are also ideal for carrying current copies of hospital procedure guides and phone directories.

"Ever try to find a current phone book on a ward so you can call a colleague for a quick consultation?" Hong said.

PDAs can also be valuable security tools. Many doctors keep 3 x 5 index cards in their lab coats when making rounds to remind them of specific patient peculiarities, such as allergies or addictions.

"We have 6000 affiliated physicians practicing in our system, each responsible for an average 20 patients per month," Hong said. "That's 120,000 index cards every month. What happens to those cards?"

That's a major security breach, he said. The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act demands institutional policies regarding data integrity and security. Patient records housed on PDAs and guarded by passwords are more secure than paper records.

With responsibilities for patients throughout the hospital, physicians need quick access not only to their patients' current clinical condition. First, they have to locate the patient, which can often mean queuing and waiting at the nearest hospital information system terminal.

Hospitals that want a better way to track and monitor patients, and a reliable means to transfer information from one shift to the next, might consider equipping their physicians with PDAs, according to Hong.

"Our physicians regularly synchronize their PDAs with the hospital system," Hong said. "Up-to-date chart information is automatically transferred to the handhelds."

Other benefits include ease of use, ready access to patient list and room information, reduction of calls to the nursing station, and no more waiting for a terminal to look up test results.

"Even physicians with limited computer exposure have adopted PDAs, which have become an integral tool in their daily practice," Hong said.

The next generation of physicians won't face the same learning curve. All residents in Hong's residency program are provided PDAs.