Amazon Kindle shows promise as low-cost means of accessing medical literature

The iPad may be garnering all the headlines, but don't count out Amazon's Kindle just yet. Just like Apple's blockbuster device seems to be more than a tablet computer, the Kindle is more than just an e-book reader. It could come in quite handy for anyone searching for medical literature.

One advantage the Kindle has over the iPad, and just about any smartphone, is its free mobile Internet access. "We thought we might be able to exploit this access for another use," Megan von Isenburg, associate director of public services at Duke University Medical Center's library, said at a mobile healthcare conference in Baltimore last month. (It's the same one FierceMobileHealthcare editor Neil Versel spoke at.)

With the help of a federal grant, Duke medical librarians converted textbooks and clinical guidelines for use on the Kindle and added functions to search PubMed and the Internet. They gave the devices to various medical students and preceptors for their rotations in primary care. Though the device is much slower than a full-powered computer, it scored high in terms of reliability and usability; 19 of 21 test subjects said they were comfortable using the Kindle in front of colleagues.

"It was easiest to use in situations that weren't time-dependent," von Isenburg said. That generally would exclude patient encounters, she noted.

"This unique combination of electronic books, documents, and wireless access positions the Kindle as a potential tool for medical students and healthcare practitioners working in educational or clinical settings, particularly those located in smaller or rural communities or those that do not have wireless or multiple computers for access," von Isenburg wrote in an informal report.

She said that Texas A&M University is involved in a similar study of the Kindle in medical environments and that Duke also is experimenting with the iPod Touch.

For more information:
- read this report from von Isenburg