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The Technopeasant Review: Going Mobile in Medicine
Jeff Pasternack

I believe that the rock band, The Who, summed up the near future of mobile healthcare with these lyrics from their tune, Going Mobile:

    I can pull up by the curb
    I can make it on the road
    Goin' mobile
    I can stop in any street
    And talk with people that we meet
    Goin' mobile
    Keep me movin
Clearly, devices and applications that help healthcare providers achieve mobility is desirable. For those of you just starting to think about getting your feet wet, here’s the Technopeasant’s Primer on going mobile.

Palm versus PocketPC
Blue screen of death gotcha down? Tired of being tormented by Windows on your desktop or laptop? Never fear! The torment can continue on your handheld device, compliments of Microsoft’s PocketPC, which runs on the Windows CE operating system. Although late to the game, Windows CE-based systems just might monopolize the handheld market in another few years, but for now, the Palm OS reigns supreme.

Although the actual numbers may vary, there are about 15,000 programs available for Palm-based machines, as opposed to the 1700 programs available for PocketPCs. Palm-based systems also tend to cost less, with devices from Palm and Handspring starting in the $150 range and going up to $500 for the Handspring Treo 270/300, which includes a cell phone. Sony, of course, has eschewed the cell phone and integrated a small digital camera, an MP3 player and, perhaps one day in the near future, will also integrate a corkscrew and screwdriver set. All jokes aside, Palm-based PDAs are more grassroots, which is why there are so many applications and hardware add-ons for them.

Windows CE is found in the Compaq iPAQ and is priced from $499-$799. Other companies such as NEC and Fujitsu are also making Windows CE-based devices. The Microsoft SmartPhone operating system just came out and can be found in VoiceStream’s T-Mobile for $599 plus an annual service agreement. Windows CE-based units are attracting higher-end corporate applications because of the similar operating systems and developing software for this environment is more complex, and controlled, than it is for Palm-based PDAs. Due to its first-mover advantage, Palm-based machines still possess the lion’s share of the PDA market.

Healthcare Applications Galore
As we all know, the healthcare industry has been very quick to respond to the shifting technology landscape and is widely known to be the trendsetter amongst industry verticals. If you believe that, then you should also know that the federal government did not proceed with its plans to establish Office of Disinformation as part of the various Homeland Security initiatives. (cough cough) Really (cough cough). They weren’t lying when they said they discarded the plans for the Office of Disinformation.

All that said and done, however, there are a huge number of applications, many of them free, for healthcare providers to use during office visits and/or hospital rounds.

Resources for the Palm OS
Medical software site -
Medical books and journals -
Patient-tracking program -
Drug database -

Resources for Windows CE
Compaq’s Healthcare Initiatives -
Medical libraries -
Prescription writing –
An integrated clinical, financial and administrative application -

To access a more complete list of resources, please click here.

Dr. Todd Ponsky is a surgical resident at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. During his residency, PDAs began their ascent in popularity and he quickly realized that a PDA was more versatile that pen and paper for managing the patient records on his rounds. “Turning to the Palm Pilot made sense because it allowed me to keep drug databases, medical calculators and patient records by my side. With the digital camera add-on, I could send wound photos to the senior residents on the other side of the building. Creating and printing reports was a cinch and, all in all, using a PDA made me a more effective practitioner.” Ponsky isn’t alone: a survey from Harris Interactive showed that the number of physicians using PDAs increased to 26% in 2001 from 15% in 1999.

Sneak – a – Peak
Odds are that most folks use more or less the same programs on their desktop computers. We’re all pretty familiar with the usual suspects: Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Norton Antivirus, Zone Alarm (practice safe computing!!) and perhaps Quicken. But what about configuring a PDA?

Never one to be labeled shy about sharing his knowledge about PDAs, Dr. Ponsky provided me with a list of the applications that he is running on his Sony Clie PG NR70V:
Vindigo - info on entertainment, shops, or music and mapping your location
EWallet - a password protected program to store credit card numbers or passwords
BugMe - a free drawing program with alarm to write quick notes
BDCity - a dictionary for foreign language translation
Projects – tracks multiple projects with multiple “to do’s”
HandHeldMed Reader - necessary to read all books published by
ISilo - reader that allows easy conversion of PC documents to palm documents
WordSmith - reader/editor program allowing one to edit PC documents on their PDA
The Johns Hopkins Antibiotic Guide
LexiDrugs - Dr. Ponsky’s favorite drug database
MedCalc - a medical formula calculating program
HanDBase - a blank database program that Dr. Ponsky uses for patient note writing and printing
PrintBoy - printing program
PhoneMate - easier phone lookup than the address book

Is this the optimum configuration for PDAs used by healthcare practitioners on the go? Not necessarily, but it serves as a great starting point for physicians learning to go mobile…mo-bile…mo-bile….

10 Considerations for Selecting a PDA
1. Budget: Plan for two years of use; tax-writeoff.
2. Size: It matters; belt clips help.
3. Color: One you go color, you never go back.
4. Software: If your electronic medical records or billing software already integrates with either Palm or PocketPC, go with it. Otherwise, make a choice to last two years.
5. Peers: What do your friends use? They can be a good source of help.
6. Battery: Palms generally last longer; color shortens battery life.
7. Memory Cards: Can the memory be expanded if needed or can you insert new cards?
8. Sound/Voice: Taking dictation might be a great feature for your PDA.
9. Input type: Stylus, thumbpad or handwriting?
10. Wireless: Probably will be critical by 2003.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at