Canadian rural doctors increasingly converted to Palm handhelds for efficient patient care

Toronto 07 January 2002While many cities across Canada lament the fact that doctors no longer make house calls, rural doctors are finding ways to thrive with new technologies which provide access to patient information directly at the point of care, be it in the office, during transport or even when making a house call, and in some cases it is proving to be a life-saving decision. Palm handhelds are becoming a critical tool for the rural general practitioner. Many doctors utilise them as references for information about rare diseases, calculators for medicine dosages, storage for prescriptions and medical textbooks, and to keep track of their constantly busy schedules.


Dr. Jay Mercer, a general practitioner and founder of Applied Evidence Inc., which produces clinical software applications for Palm Powered handhelds, views his Palm handheld as an invaluable service delivery tool. Dr. Mercer uses his handheld to carry patient data, collect billing information, look up disease diagnosis and treatment, search for drug interactions, and remind him to schedule patient treatments. Applied Evidence currently is developing software applications for diagnosis of depression, cancer staging, fever management for children, and narcotic dosing in palliative care.

"A desktop computer is fine in the office but useless everywhere else, and a laptop is slow to boot up and freezes at inopportune moments", stated Dr. Mercer. "My Palm handheld fits easily into my shirt pocket, has instant on/off capability, and is speedy and easy to use. More important, there is a tremendous amount of medical programmes written for the Palm OS platform, the bulk of which can be downloaded directly from the Internet. I would sooner leave my stethoscope at home than my handheld, as it played a role in saving a life when I needed quick access to information pertaining to a medical procedure in an ambulance."

Whether he is in his office, in an emergency-room setting, or conducting a home-care call, Dr. Alec Cooper is making use of his Palm handheld. As part of a 12-physician Family Medicine Group, of which five doctors are using the Palm OS in their daily practice, Dr. Cooper uses his Palm handheld to regularly check and calculate drug interactions and doses, to maintain patient dossiers, and to synchronise weekly schedules with his assistant. "Medical information can be more efficiently stored, exchanged or retrieved, all the while reducing the potential for human error when providing patient care", as Dr. Cooper explained.

Dr. Cooper also uses his handheld as a patient counselling tool, when discussing the treatment of asymptomatic conditions, such as hypercholesterol or hypertension, with his patients using such programmes as Statcoder's Cardiac Risk. Other medical applications he uses frequently include mobile drug database ePocrates, DoseCalc, Active ECG for rapid cardiac assessment and transmission of data to emergency-room specialists, and ThinkDB in which he maintains forty-two home-care files with diagnoses, medication lists, and billing information.

"The Palm OS still has a very important edge as far as the number of medical applications available to me", Dr. Cooper stated. "In Québec City, over the past two years I have witnessed a steady expansion of Palm handheld use among my medical colleagues, and I believe we will one day reach a critical mass in both individual and institutional use that will greatly accelerate the adoption of this technology."

Health care is going digital. Just as telemedicine was first introduced in the 1970s for the exchange of medical data in the United States, today medical professionals are using handheld computers to provide health care over long distances and in hard-to-reach areas. "The flexibility of the Palm OS platform allows medical practitioners to customise the technology to suit their every need quickly and easily", stated Michael Moskowitz, president and general manager, Palm Canada. "From critical care to yearly check-ups, doctors can easily stay on top of any ailments that their patients may have, with a minimum of paperwork. Ultimately, this means they can spend more time with their patients, which is what medical care is all about."

You can find more news on the use of handheld computers in health care in the VMW October 2001 article Palm handhelds help medical students cope with wealth of reference information.

Leslie Versweyveld

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