Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Design and Evaluation of a Personal Digital Assistant-Based Alerting Service for Clinicians*[dagger]

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Design and Evaluation of a Personal Digital Assistant-Based Alerting Service for Clinicians*[dagger]

Article excerpt

Purpose: This study describes the system architecture and user acceptance of a suite of programs that deliver information about newly updated library resources to clinicians' personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Description: Participants received headlines delivered to their PDAs alerting them to new books, National Guideline Clearinghouse guidelines, Cochrane Reviews, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Alerts, as well as updated content in UpToDate, Harrison's Online, Scientific American Medicine, and Clinical Evidence. Participants could request additional information for any of the headlines, and the information was delivered via email during their next synchronization. Participants completed a survey at the conclusion of the study to gauge their opinions about the service.

Results/Outcome: Of the 816 headlines delivered to the 16 study participants' PDAs during the project, Scientific American Medicine generated the highest proportion of headline requests at 35%. Most users of the PDA Alerts software reported that they learned about new medical developments sooner than they otherwise would have, and half reported that they learned about developments that they would not have heard about at all. While some users liked the PDA platform for receiving headlines, it seemed that a Web database that allowed tailored searches and alerts could be configured to satisfy both PDA-oriented and email-oriented users.


This project uses personal digital assistants (PDAs) as conduits to promote and leverage electronic resources to library users. A suite of free, open-source applications has been developed to alert library users to new or updated content in electronic resources and newly acquired clinical books. This paper describes the system architecture and components and reports the results of a pilot project by a small group of library users.

The PDA Alerts program is a suite of applications designed for clinicians with Palm operating system (OS) PDAs. It consists of a small PDA application, a synchronization application residing on the user's personal computer, a librarian-in-the-loop interface application, and a relational database. Information coming to the health sciences library in electronic format is automatically sent to the project email account, which is read by the Librarian Interface application. New books and other information not received electronically are manually entered into the Librarian Interface application.

After review by a librarian, the information is coded and sent to the relational database. The clinician-users install a software package that creates a conduit from their personal computer to the relational database, using the Palm hotsync application with version 4.1 of the Palm Desktop. After installing the software and synchronizing their PDAs, clinicians can view headlines describing content newly added from a variety of library resources. At any given time, the fifty most recent headlines appear on the users' PDAs. Users mark headlines of interest in the PDA application using a checkbox form and, on their next PDA synchronization, receive links to selected resources in their email accounts. The source code and database schema [1] are available to other institutions through a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license [2].

The librarian selects the headlines to be included as alerts. During the pilot project, headlines were delivered from a variety of sources, including:

* Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine [3]

* National Guideline Clearinghouse [4]

* Scientific American Medicine [5]

* Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [6]

* UpToDate [7]

* BMJ Clinical Evidence [8]

* National Institutes of Health (NTH) Clinical Alerts [9]

* New clinical books added to the library's collection

When the software was introduced, a research project was undertaken with the following specific aims:

* to determine the feasibility of providing the PDA Alerts service

* to learn which resources were the most requested by users of the service

* to see if the PDA platform conveyed any advantages over simply delivering these alerts via email

* to determine if usage of this service affected the frequency of visits to the library


A recent systematic review of handheld computing in medicine [10] notes that, while handheld computers have become increasingly prevalent in health care settings, many clinicians remain unaware of potential uses. …

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