|UHN Palm Newsletter (September 2000) |
Sometimes I want to store a list or medications as a table on my Palm PDA or keep a log of procedures or patients while I work. The Memo function or a text file editor doesn't allow me to organize that information so I have been evaluating data entry and database programs. This month I report on some of my findings to date.
There are three approaches to database programs for the Palm medical user:
- Basic database programs which allow you to create a database on the Palm PDA, but not manipulate the data extensively. These programs have no formal mechanism for sharing data with a desktop PC for doing statistical analysis or generating reports. JFile (http://www.land-j.com) is probably the best known of these. The most common way to share data from Jfile is to export a report to the Memo pad, where it is accessible to be cut-and-pasted to other applications on the Palm or on your desktop PC. TealInfo (http://www.tealpoint.com) is a more powerful take on the same idea but requires all data entry on a desktop PC to make databases that are only for reference on the Palm. TealInfo is unusual in its ability to incorporate text, pictures or any other type of data files in its "folios". Developing a TealInfo database requires a fair bit of programming, however. Another popular database program is MobileDB (http://www.mobilegeneration.com).
- More sophisticated database software permits more elaborate data entry and massage options, and may include ways of exporting data to (for example) Microsoft Access (the standard package for database software on Windows PCs). Here we find, at the low end, HanDBase (http://www.ddhsoftware.com) which allows you to import tables of data or roll you own. In addition, HanDBase has many shortcuts for data entry: if you don't like a table you built, you can reorganize it on the fly. In addtion, HanDBase tables can be viewed on the desktop with a utility program, or exported as CSV files for import into other programs, such as Excel or Access. HanDBase also permits arithmetic operations on its data fields so that you can find programs that emulate medical calculators (like the ones we reviewed last week) but which run as HanDBase databases on the Palm.
- More sophisticated still are programs like PenDragonForms (http://www.pendragon-software.com) or Satellite Forms (http://www.pumatech.com) which are designed for industrial strength data collection tasks. For example, I have read of several medical schools using PenDragon Forms for procedure logging of their students' activities. The students HotSync their Palms to a desktop PC in the education office. The lists of medical procedures that they have completed are uploaded to the PC which uses Access to compile reports and analyse the data. Not for the casual user, obviously, as you will need to be skillful not only with setting up the Palm side, but also with using Access for the data analysis side of the job
- Too lazy to do your own programming but you want to log your (or your students') activities? Then this final category of database applications is for you. I am referring to dedicated programs which are already set up to function as logs. All you need to do is key in the list of procedures and you are ready to roll. There are many to choose from, including: PatientKeeper (http://www.patientkeeper.com), PatientTracker (still only in testing for Palm, but free for Windows CE users), ProcLog (http://www.synapsesoft.com/), and Pocket Procedures (http://www.pocketmed.org).
Don't forget that simple tasks can be handled well by text input applications like SmartDoc (http://www.onetap.com/) or the Memo function on the Palm.
You can also use a variety of spreadsheet programs to look at or input tabular data. These tend to be a bit slower than the alternatives however. We looked at spreadsheets in last month's issue. If you pick up a conversion utility for Excel spreadsheets to CSV format, you can view tabular data with CSV Manager (http://www.benc.hr) which is cheap and simple. The graphic image at the right shows you how a sample of the Emergency Department staff schedule looks on my Palm. No more confusion about who has to do the graveyard shift on Tuesday, no matter where the debate takes place
DocumentsToGo (http://www.dataviz.com), or InstallBuddy (http://www.backupbuddy.com/) will install spreadsheets and other tables on your Palm PDA for viewing only (among their many other tricks). Tabular data can be accessed this way without any other special application.
Once again, there are lots of potentially useful applications for you but you will still need to do some research to identify what works for you.
Hack of the Month
Last month we looked at PopCalc as an example of a Hack. Most hacks are simpler than that, however, and aim fill more basic needs. FlipHack (http://www.byteswapped.com/palm/) is designed to rotate your screen for viewing from different angles. How useful is that? It's handy for some games and for showing the screen to someone while keeping their fingers away from the control buttons (a certain five year old daughter comes to my mind
). Check it out.
Medical "Doc" of the Month
Dr. Rob Oh has been tinkering with Palms since they first became available. He is particularly interested in how to make the Palm support his medical work. The web site (http://hometown.aol.com/roboh98/palm.html) has useful links to other parts of the web as well as his own input into the neverending questions of computerdom: what to buy? And what to with it after you've got it? As this is not a commercial site, it doesn't discuss how to get a second mortgage to pay for more computer toys.
Next month's issue is just a glimmer in my eye for now so you'll just have to keep guessing until October.
Oh, alright then. We will look at ways to launch or swap between tasks more quickly - it was supposed to be this month's theme but I got sidetracked with other topics.
This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals and video game afficionados at the UHN. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, or complain, contact the author at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org