Study: Handheld computers effective in clinical practice

There is emerging evidence that healthcare professionals are effectively using handheld computers across a variety of functions that support clinical practice, according to a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Providing a "snapshot" of current research evidence, the study identifies five systematic reviews that provide evidence of the effective use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals, with a specific focus on evaluating the effectiveness of PDAs. The review documents the effectiveness of handheld computers in four functional areas: patient documentation, patient care, information seeking, and professional work patterns. 

"Handheld computers appear to provide easy and timely access to information and to support more accurate and complete documentation," study authors conclude. "They can also provide access to evidence-based decision support and patient management systems that improve clinical decision making for patient care. Finally, there is evidence that handheld computers allow health professionals to be more efficient in their work practices, thereby allowing more time for patient contact."

The results jibe with an Epocrates report that found that mobile devices continue to transform the work lives of physicians, with more than four in five using smartphones every day, more than half of doctors using tablets daily and two in five nurse practitioners and physician assistants doing the same. By 2014, the report predicts that nine in 10 healthcare providers will use smartphones, and nearly as many will have adopted tablets. The report also finds that while the majority of charting and electronic health record (EHR) interaction is performed via laptop or desktop computer, nearly half of all clinicians who own a tablet commonly utilize it for EHR management and other clinical documentation.

According to the authors of the JMIR study, today's clinicians use smartphones and tablets rather than PDAs, but the lessons to be learned from the use of PDAs should not be discounted. Although technology has become more sophisticated, they argue that it facilitates similar actions and can provide direction for healthcare professionals implementing handheld computers in clinical settings and for designing future research. 

"This evidence may guide clinicians, managers, and researchers in incorporating the growing number of ever more sophisticated devices into routine clinical practice and future research," conclude the authors. "We should utilize it in assessing whether emerging devices are living up to their hype."

Another recent article in JMIR found that the use of Apple iPads for certain tasks in an internal medicine residency program fell short of initial high expectations, although users reported overall satisfaction with the tools. Residents who reported more "hype" prior to iPad deployment were more likely to use the iPad to enter orders, according to researchers. Moreover, those residents who used Apple products prior to iPad deployment also were likely to report higher usage of the iPad.

To learn more:
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