Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Royal Society of Medicine workshop on handheld computers

Posted in Articles, Medicine, My publications, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on March 1, 2004

Around 1250 AD, Matthew Paris drew the map of Britain show in Figure 1. As you might notice, Scotland is a little underrepresented. In fact a note on the map, I am reliably told, says that “the whole island should have been longer if only the page had permitted”. This is what happens when you do not think about the size of your display area.

Figure 1

A handheld computer is good for storing and displaying information that is the size of your hand – a blood form, for example. A handheld computer is not so good for storing and displaying information that is the size of your arm – a radiogram, for example. With a little planning, information the size of your arm can be redesigned to for display on devices the size of your hand – for example an A4 paper textbook. A small disk can hold several textbooks, and a small computer can display and search through all of them quickly and efficiently.

The fact that a small display is not good for a large radiogram does not mean that only large devices are useful. A surgeon in an operation uses large retractors for parts of the operation, and small retractors for other parts of the operation. The surgeon’s skills include choosing and using the right retractor at the right time in the right way.

And this was the theme of the advanced track of the Royal Society of Medicine’s workshop on handheld computers[1]. When are handheld computers useful? And when are they not useful? When they can be useful, how are they best used? Through the sessions I hoped that we would arrive at answers to these questions.

The five sessions began with case studies from Dr Andrew Choong and Dr Adam Towler, and a paper by Rotich et al[2]. I then led discussions on designing databases, security, training other users, sharing clinical data, and contracts. The attendees were a mixture of clinicians, IT staff, and managers, and their discussions were informed and informative.

In parallel, Dr Chris Paton was chairing the sessions for the beginners. There, the focus was on introducing the audience to using handheld computer tools for managing patients (Dr Nic Price), reference texts (James Stanley), team work, and wireless networks (Kevin Beatson). Claire Honeybourne, librarian from Leicester, discussed her team’s work with clinicians and library users.

Attendees earned five Continuing Professional Development points as formal recognition of the knowledge that they gained from the day. But the commonest comment was how delighted they were to have met so many others working on these issues. And some of them even came from that small part of the map known as Scotland.


[2] Installing and Implementing a Computer-based Patient Record System in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Mosoriot Medical Record System. Joseph K. Rotich et al, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 10:295-303 (2003).

review published in British Medical Informatics Today Spring 2004 issue


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