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    UHN Palm Newsletter (October 2001) - Medicine on the Run

    What is it about the end of summer, anyway? The leaves fall out of the trees and suddenly I think I can write my own software, convert mountains of loose paper scraps into organized medical reference tools, and speak in tongues all while holding down a job that actually puts food on the table. Rose (my better half) has hinted that ever since I lost my hair the cold weather adversely affects my brain. But with some of the tools I describe below I can try to organize my stuff (lately I can even show some progress on that front). And I still have some time leftover to maintain (repair?) my relationship with Rose.

    Convert Documents to Portable Formats

    There are two aspects to putting medical references on the Palm. One is deciding how you want to present it (outline format, webpage format, simple text, pictures?). This determines to a great extent what tools you use and how you employ the Palm at work.

    The other aspect is selecting material. Online resources are widely available and can be ported from a website to your PDA with programs like AvantGo (, or Plucker ( PDF files (popular with many online editions of medical journals) can be converted with AportisDoc PDF Converter ( Some sources for material include:

    Many of the above require AvantGo or a similar engine to enable copying articles to your Palm. But there are many other journals online which have no proprietary download arrangements, for example the British Medical Journal (

    In my case I also have large amounts of notes I would like to consolidate. I can type them up and use a variety of programs to import them to my Palm. Many of these have been reviewed here before: AvantGo, Plucker, iSilo, BrainForest, various databases like Jfile, MobileDB, ThinkDB and HanDBase and newcomer dbNow ( Any of these can be used to extract material from your harddrive except AvantGo which now (v2) requires expensive server software to permit downloading from local PCs instead of the web.

    Document readers can also be used to review plain text notes on your Palm. A useful review of various document readers and editors can be found at ( For short documents and notes you can also enhance the Palm MemoPad applet with such programs as Memo PLUS (, Snap! Memo (, Pedit Pro ( or CryptoPad (see September issue)

    It's worth noting that the iSilo reader v3 ( has finally come to grips with importing tables from web pages and documents. Thus it can be used instead of AvantGo v2 to download documents onto your Palm from your computer. Those of us who work at the University Health Network and have been using the UHN Antimicrobial Guide in AvantGo v1 format have been casting about for a way out of this pickle and may have a solution when iSilo brings the final version to market.

    Half way between professional publications and homegrown efforts are the myriad data files put together and made freely available by health workers and students like you and me. HanDBase is the champ here and it's home website ( is crammed with useful little databases on every topic under the sun.

    For those who want to save precious memory, a citation index or database of journal articles might be sufficient. The RuralNet site has a journal reference system in HanDBase format at Almost any database program can perform this task and the HanDBase site has many other examples. Alternatively there's a program called PocketCites ( which works with JFile. On your Mac or PC you also need End-Note (source?) to use this.

    Roll Your Own Programs

    More and more programming tools enter the arena every month. Here are a few noteworthy ones:

    • Appartist ( claims you can "develop Palm apps without knowing any (well, much) programming". Still very limited abilities (no math yet) this is another attempt to create programming tools that even I can use.
    • Pippy ( is a Palm version of the Python programming language - but is still under development (ie. for experienced or ambitious programmers only).

    Satellite Forms, which I have referred to in the past, is excellent for creating databases when you intend to collect data from multiple Palms for central analysis. Procedure logs for housestaff or students are the classic application and you can find a good example at


    Translation Software

    The Palm is at a disadvantage when it comes to helping with foreign languages because it can't really accommodate voice input or output. There are add-ons that make your Palm into a dictaphone, but nothing like the capabilities of a PocketPC like the iPaq which can play prerecorded clips of medical questions in Urdu or Amharic.

    But there are other ways your Palm can help you communicate with your patients.

    • Small Talk ( translates your typed sentences into French, German, Spanish, Italian and translates typed responses in those languages back into English. No sound effects available.
    • Bdicty translators ( are simple word translation dictionaries, without phrases.
    • Free TrueTerm travel phrase books may be helpful. Find them at
    • Use graphic software to write out a phrase in Chinese, or Arabic, with English translation as a caption. Both these solutions require handing the PDA back and forth between you and the patient unless you want to take a stab at reading the foreign language phrase out loud yourself. Some examples: HandMemo (, QDraw (, Diddle (
    • You can use a text note or database to keep lists of phrases and their phonetic pronunciations on hand. Some databases allow you to link pictures to each record so you could have scanned pictures of Chinese medical questions linked to the English equivalent phrases. All you would have to do is select a picture and show it to the patient. Clearly, yes/no questions would be best here unless you have lots of room on your PDA for many linked pictures with various responses for the patient to select.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    Go to for news about an upcoming symposium on using Palms in research, health care, and medical education. Yours truly will be one of the speakers but there will be much more on a wide range of topics. This is a good opportunity to link with other health care workers and teachers in Toronto and to develop new tools and techniques.

    Hack of the Month

    McPhling ( is an improved version of SwitchHack which facilitates task swapping. More stable than some of its peers and with a few new bells and whistles. Did I mention it's free? Try it.

    Medical Computing

    For a look at what is happening in Medical Handheld computing currently, check out the following websites:

    In Times to Come

    After putting this together I took a moment to check. Yup, Rose and I are still married so there will be a November issue.

    Until then, enjoy!

    This is the latest issue of a newsletter on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, paramedics, IT professionals and others who need tools that work. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, unsubscribe, present burnt offerings, obtain back issues, change your email address or complain, contact the author at:

    Visit our website for the latest Medical Palm Review newsletter and the archive of back issues.