PDAs: How to choose software

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Hundreds of programs for personal digital assistants can automate clinical and practice management tasks. How do you decide?



PDAs: How to choose software

Hundreds of programs for personal digital assistants can automate clinical and practice management tasks. How do you decide?

By Neil Chesanow

There are currently well over 1,000 PDA titles for physicians. They include drug reference databases, standard clinical texts, prescription writing software, medical calculators, coding and billing programs, patient and procedure trackers, and databases of evidence-based medicine reviews.

PDAs that use the Palm operating system dominate the market and are more popular among physicians than those based on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform, so currently there are far more medical software


titles available for Palm devices. This is expected to change dramatically as the use of Pocket PCs grows. And many software companies now make versions of programs for both operating systems.

According to a poll by the American College of Physicians, the most popular programs for PDAs are drug encyclopedias (used by 80 percent of the respondents), references for normal lab values (32 percent), medical textbooks (21 percent), and billing and coding software (21 percent). But there are many other categories, and within each is a plethora of titles.

With all of these programs available, how do you zero on in the best PDA software for your needs? Here are some tips:

• Ask colleagues who own PDAs what their favorite titles are, and why. Request a demonstration so you can see how a given program works.

• If you use a practice management system, ask the vendor whether it provides PDA software or whether the PM system is compatible with PDA programs from other vendors. Such compatibility can make your life easier by eliminating the need for double entry of demographic and other data.

• Find out whether you have to pay full price for the programs you want. PDA medical programs are available in one of three forms: freeware, shareware, or commercial software. Freeware, as the name implies, costs nothing. Shareware, which may offer more functions than freeware, has a modest cost. Commercial software, usually designed by professional developers, tends to be the most sophisticated and the most expensive. Some shareware works better and costs less than commercial offerings. If a shareware and a commercial program offer equivalent features and the shareware version is cheaper, try it first.

• Try the software out before you buy it. Sometimes, you can download a full working version for a test period—typically 30 days—after which you either pay or the software stops working. Or you can download a partially disabled version that, say, won't let you save or print out data until you pony up the fee. Or you can test a working model online, or pay for the software up front and receive a money-back guarantee. If you have a choice, try programs that don't force you to whip out your wallet first.

• Test more than one software title in a give category, to see which is fastest and easiest to use. Some titles may perform the same tasks but take a significantly different number of stylus taps to get the job done, or they may search for information in their databases at vastly different speeds.


Online info
The author is a freelance writer based in Montvale, NJ, and a former Senior Editor of Medical Economics.


Neil Chesanow. PDAs: How to choose software.

Medical Economics

Oct. 24, 2003;80:TCP17.