Gadgets galore &#8212 to ease your management of patient and practice data

October 13, 2004

The medical office of the future is here, and it's electronic. Personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablets, and wireless applications are already making significant inroads into daily practice for many pediatricians. Within a few years, every clinician will probably be using them.

The medical office of the future is here, and it's electronic. Personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablets, and wireless applications are already making significant inroads into daily practice for many pediatricians. Within a few years, every clinician will probably be using them.

"The medical references and applications that are available today are amazingly better than there were just three years ago," said David Stockwell, MD, a pediatric critical care fellow at Children's National Medical Center. "Just like there is no one car that suits everyone, there is no single handheld device that will satisfy every pediatrician."

The starting point for most handheld devices is the PIM, or personal information manager. It is nothing more than an electronic replacement for the family pocket-sized notebook, Dr. Stockwell told attendees Monday at the AAP 2004 National Conference and Exhibition.

"Start with something straightforward that you can use right away," he suggested. "Then you can branch out into medical information devices that you can use in daily practice."

The next step up in complexity is the PDA, also known as a "handheld."

Handhelds come in two basic flavors, Dr. Stockwell continued: Palm (as in "Palm Pilot") and Pocket PC, which runs on a version of Microsoft Windows. The two operating systems are not compatible and not every software program is available for both systems.

So which handheld alternative is better for busy clinicians? Both work well, said Andy Spooner, MD, director of the division of general pediatrics at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. In some cases, the choice of system is governed by which programs you want to use.

Dr. Spooner's favorite, program, Kidometer (www.kidometer.com), is available only for the Palm. The software offers dozens, even hundreds, of data parameters that vary by thae age of the patient.

The third step up the ladder of personal technology is the smartphone, a combination of the PDA and a mobile telephone with e-mail and Internet accessbility.

Whichever device you choose, Dr. Stockwell concluded, be certain that others in your office use the same operating system.

"It's not that one is better than the other," he explained. "But if people in your office use the same operating system, even the same device, you have built-in tech support.