Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

Handheld computers

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 13 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1181
  1. Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, visiting research fellow (
  1. 1National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA


    Handheld computers can save you time and increase your accuracy with clinical facts. The computer part means that you can store all sorts of clinically relevant information, and the handheld part means that you can carry the device wherever your clinical travels take you.

    Clinical practice entails a lot of information management. Of course, my seniors at medical school tried their hardest to teach me the medical facts that would guide my future practice. But on the wards they also taught me other things: which local protocol to use; the phone number of other specialists for further management; and which parts of the welfare system would affect clinical outcomes.

    And doctors travel a lot. I did not fully understand this until my first few minutes as a doctor: my pager explained to me that I should be heading to another part of the hospital, and it continued to redirect me throughout the day. Such travelling was not just for the inexperienced. My seniors pointed out how much walking they had to do, and their pace put mine to shame. As I began the general practice phase of my rotation, my destinations included not only offices, examination rooms, and committee rooms in the surgery but also patients' homes throughout the surrounding rural area.

    It is difficult to escape the feeling that handheld computers were designed with clinical practice in mind. In fact, handheld computers were originally designed for corporate executives: the devices were a replacement for paper organisers as they included diary, address book, “to do” list, and note functions.

    Main uses

    Handheld computers have brought important advantages. With a few taps on the screen, for example, you can convert an appointment for Tuesday's outpatients clinic to an outpatients appointment for every Tuesday of this year (this is much quicker than using a …

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