Headlines: September 30th, 2005

Hand held computer devices could change the way health care is delivered in the future according to an article published today in the medical journal, ‘The Lancet’. Dr Daniel C. Baumgart, who works in Berlin, has carried out a detailed study of the way various equipment is already being used in treatment and in the education of medical students.His review says doctors and other health care professionals are moving quickly to adopt Personal Digital Assistants, while Palm Pilots and other hand-held computers are increasingly popular with students. The increasing integration of these devices with information technology in hospitals will, he says, have an impact on the future delivery of care.

His study shows that half of all doctors under 35 years old and working in developed countries used a PDA in 2003. He also quotes an American study which shows that this year more than half of doctors there are expected to use the devices and the number will go on rising.

He finds, though that in spite of this increasing use there needs to be more evidence from well-designed research studies to show how much the new technology can improve the quality of care, save patients’ lives, and ultimately reduce health-care expenses.

In his article, which offers a personal perspective on developments in this area, as well as reviewing PDA use, he questions such issues as security and safety, Dr Baumgart says, “The future of information exchange in medicine is digital and wireless. Physicians, nurses, dieticians, medical students and trainees, and other health-care professionals, must review an ever-increasing amount of constantly changing information about their patients several times a day and correlate data with the most recent diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations and management options to make sound decisions.”

In the past, he writes, this was done by using separate devices, reference systems and networks. Hand-held devices were now capable of changing how health care will be delivered in the future as they aim to integrate these functions in a single piece of equipment.

Turning to medical education, he says this relies increasingly on computer technology, beginning with the replacement of animal experiments with computer simulations in scientific laboratories and including, in the United States, the scraping of paper examinations in favour of computerized systems. The use of PDAs, he says, sits well with these concepts and it is unsurprising that medical students were among the early adopters of the technology.