Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are handheld computers that were originally designed as personal organizers, but became much more versatile over the years.
PDAs are also known as pocket computers or palmtop computers. PDAs have many uses: calculation, use as a clock and calendar, accessing the Internet, sending and receiving E-mails, video recording, typewriting and word processing, use as an address book, making and writing on spreadsheets, scanning bar codes, use as a radio or stereo, playing computer games, recording survey responses, and Global Positioning System (GPS). Newer PDAs also have both color screens and audio capabilities, enabling them to be used as mobile phones (smartphones), web browsers, or portable media players. Many PDAs can access the Internet, intranets or extranets via Wi-Fi, or Wireless Wide-Area Networks (WWANs). One of the most significant PDA characteristics is the presence of a touch screen.
Currently, a typical PDA has a touch screen for entering data and a memory card slot for data storage and IrDA, Bluetooth and WIFI for connectivity.
PDAs are used to store information that can be accessed at any time and any where, such as in:
– Sporting uses
– Ruggedized PDAs
– Medical and scientific uses
In medicine, PDAs have been shown to aid diagnosis and drug selection and some studies have concluded that their use by patients to record symptoms improves the effectiveness of communication with hospitals during follow-up. The first landmark study in testing the effectiveness of PDAs in a medical setting was conducted at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospitals in affiliation with Harvard Medical School. Led by the team of Steven Labkoff, MD and Sandeep Shah, the Constellation project used Apple’s Newton (first PDA in the market) to cater to the demands of the medical professionals.
Constellation’s objective was to test how clinicians in various medical environments (wired vs un wired) would use medical reference books on a hand-held device. The study validated the hypothesis that PDAs with medical content would be used to a greater degree (>40% more often) in unwired environments.
Today, the company evolved from the effort Skyscape offers a wide range of resources including drug information, treatment options, guidelines, evidence based information and journal summaries including the drug & safety alerts. Other entrants include Epocrates and ABX guide, which supply drug databases, treatment information and relevant news in formats specific to mobile devices and services such as AvantGo translate medical journals into readable formats and provide updates from journals. WardWatch organizes medical records to remind doctors making ward rounds of information such as the treatment regimens of patients and programs. Finally, Pendragon and Syware provide tools for conducting research with mobile devices, and connecting to a central server allowing the user to enter data into a centralized database using their PDA. Additionally, Microsoft Visual Studio and Sun Java provide programming tools for developing survey instruments on the handheld. These development tools allow for integration with SQL databases that are stored on the handheld and can be synchronized with a desktop/server based database. Recently the development of Sensor Web technology has led to discussion of using wearable bodily sensors to monitor ongoing conditions like diabetes and epilepsy and alerting medical staff or the patient themselves to the treatment required via communication between the web and PDAs.