Background: Computing technology has the potential to improve health care management but is often underutilized. Handheld computers are versatile and relatively inexpensive, bringing the benefits of computers to the bedside. We evaluated the role of this technology for managing patient data and accessing medical reference information, in an academic intensive-care unit (ICU).
Methods: Palm III series handheld devices were given to the ICU team, each installed with medical reference information, schedules, and contact numbers. Users underwent a 1-hour training session introducing the hardware and software. Various patient data management applications were assessed during the study period. Qualitative assessment of the benefits, drawbacks, and suggestions was performed by an independent company, using focus groups. An objective comparison between a paper and electronic handheld textbook was achieved using clinical scenario tests.
Results: During the 6-month study period, the 20 physicians and 6 paramedical staff who used the handheld devices found them convenient and functional but suggested more comprehensive training and improved search facilities. Comparison of the handheld computer with the conventional paper text revealed equivalence. Access to computerized patient information improved communication, particularly with regard to long-stay patients, but changes to the software and the process were suggested.
Conclusions: The introduction of this technology was well received despite differences in users' familiarity with the devices. Handheld computers have potential in the ICU, but systems need to be developed specifically for the critical-care environment.