Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

The Use of Personal Digital Assistants in the Health Sciences: Results of a Survey

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

The Use of Personal Digital Assistants in the Health Sciences: Results of a Survey

Article excerpt

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to determine how personal digital assistants (PDAs) are used on an academic health sciences campus to define the level of training and support the library can provide to the students and faculty.

Method: A Web-based questionnaire was developed. A total of 1,538 health sciences faculty and residents were sent an email message requesting participation. Data from the returned surveys were analyzed with SPSS.

Results: Sixty-one percent of survey respondents used PDAs. The address book, date book, and calculator were the most common uses reported for PDAs. Residents also reported a high use of drug databases on their PDAs. Most survey respondents indicated they would like to learn more about clinical resources for PDAs.

Conclusions: Many opportunities exist for librarians to provide training and support for PDAs, in addition to evaluation and promotion of clinical software for PDAs.


The use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) in medicine and the health sciences has rapidly increased. Health care professionals are using PDAs for patient tracking, medical reference, and drug dosage, as well as personal use. Librarians across the country, especially those in health sciences environments, have noticed a rising use of PDAs among patrons. Some of the resources currently available for use on PDAs have traditionally been provided by the library (Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 5 Minute Clinical Consult, and the Physicians' Desk Reference). It is therefore important that the use of these resources is understood and that proper training and support be made available to health sciences library users.

Librarians at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) see students, staff, and faculty use PDAs in various settings. UIC is a large urban academic research center with an enrollment totaling over 25,000 students. Approximately 5,500 are enrolled in health sciences colleges [1]. The Library of the Health SciencesChicago campus provides liaison services to medical center residents and six health sciences colleges in the university: applied health sciences, dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Due the increased popularity of PDAs on campus, librarians have begun to offer basic PDA training sessions. However, librarians are concerned that library users' training needs are different for PDAs, and instruction should be tailored accordingly.

Since staff of the Library of the Health Sciences began offering PDA workshops in the winter of 2002, we have noted that participants have a wide variety of skills related to PDAs. For instance, someone from the college of medicine may come to a class with their own PDA loaded with clinical software and want to learn details about the use of the software. At the same session, a participant from the college of public health may come expecting to gain information to make an informed decision about purchasing a PDA. Repeated contact with individuals from the various health sciences disciplines on campus has reinforced the librarians' belief that awareness, use, and knowledge about PDAs varies widely among the colleges. Therefore, we are seeking to determine the various PDA training needs of the different health sciences students, faculty, and professionals to provide focused instruction to meet the wide range of needs. We hope that this study will offer insight and guidance for other health sciences librarians planning PDA instruction.


PDAs have been on the market since the early 1990s. The Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) has had a subject heading for PDAs ("Computers, Hand-Held") since 1997 [2]. The National Library of Medicine added the term "Computers, Handheld" to Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in 2003 [3]. The use of PDAs in health care may also be inferred from a PDA Bibliography Web page created by Stoddard focusing on articles in health care journals [4]. …

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