|UHN Palm Newsletter (August 2001) - On the Road Again |
IT'S SUMMERTIME AND I am trying to spend less time at my desk. Can my Palm help me be more mobile? You bet.
WHAT DO YOU USE your handheld computer for? Email? Web browsing? Looking up medical references? Patient charting and tracking? Notice how many of those tasks require you to be linked to the Internet or a network in order to be useful. How can you use your Palm to spend less time stuck at your desk but still stay in touch?
There are several basic approaches to connecting with your Palm. The first question you have to answer is whether or not you need continuous contact with other computing resources or if it is enough to "check in" once or twice per day. To a great extent this depends on what you need to accomplish: whether you need to keep in touch (share patient files, get email) or periodically update reference material (obtain the latest version of a medical reference, read a weekly newsmagazine. Then consider whether you will be staying inside one building or if you need to be able to access a network or the Internet from all over the place. Finally, you must take into account what resources (internet, cellular telephone, network) are available locally.
The most basic intermittent method is to use the HotSync port. This allows you to (for example) download patient clinic notes to a PC, which permits an admin assistant to type up, say, consult letters. At the same time you can upload any changes to your schedule. If you work in several wards or hospitals or ambulance stations you can HotSync using a different PC at each location and multiple users can share those PCs. This makes it easy to accumulate records for a database of (for example) ambulance calls.
But you can also download your email to browse through your messsages and compose replies for sending when you next HotSync. An email application is included with your Palm Desktop software, although you can find more elaborate ones at many Palm websites.
You can also snag a variety of Web content for later viewing, using online services. AvantGo (www.avantgo.com) and Plucker (www.plucker.com) are two which allow you to designate certain websites as "channels". When you HotSync, your PC logs onto those sites, obtains updates of the web pages, and transfers them to your Palm. This works surprisingly well if you want to download electronic versions of newspapers or journals, weather service or stock market reports and other topical materials. Plucker will also take files from your PC and render them into Palm-ready material. It helps if websites are formatted to be easily readable on your Palm, although AvantGo and Plucker take care of most issues. Principally, this entails stripping out extraneous ads or oversized graphic images and similar formatting issues. A listing of Palm-ready sites can also be found at Plinkit (http://members.bellatlantic.net/~blumax/plinkit/) and you can point AvantGo or Plucker to any of these sites if you choose.
For transferring text and web pages from the web or your hard drive you can also use iSiloWeb (isilo.com), which does all the dirty work so that you can look at web pages with the iSilo reader as though they were ordinary text documents.
Websites may also be perused offline with browser software for your Palm. These programs allow you to get any website's material oto your Palm but you have to rely on software running on your PC to do the formatting instead of a service like AvantGo. Results may be more or less readable - remember the difference in size and resolution of your Palm and PC screens. Popular browsers include Palmscape (http://www.ilinx.co.jp/en/) and Blazer (http://www.handspring.com/).
Modems provide more flexibility. You can get in touch with the web or send email whenever you feel like it - provided you can find a suitable phone jack. Palm makes a modem (www.palm.com) and products like the VisorPhone are available for the Visor (www.handspring.com). Newer Palm devices willl be able to use modems that fit in their Compact Flash (Handera, www.handera.com) or SD media (Palm or Handera) slots.
If you don't want to be tethered to a phone jack, you can still use a modem or you can try wireless networking. Palm (and others) sell kits which facilitate connecting your PDA to your cell phone with a cable. (The m500 series includes the connection kit at no extra charge). Included software lets you dial access to the Internet or a network. Drawbacks of this approach include juggling the wires and two handheld devices. Don't forget that you pay by the minute for cell phone calls. Palm modems tend to be pricey compared to their deskbound cousins.
Other ways to go wireless do exist. The Palm VII has a built-in wireless modem which permits you to just flip up the antenna and link in. Unfortunately the required network of transmitters doesn't extend into Canada so this is not an option for us. Other ways to accomplish wireless web browsing are being developed but suffer from similar range and coverage issues. Costs are invariably greater than using cellular phones and modems.
If your needs are more modest (for example, you want to be able to share patient chart data only within your hospital walls) you could try wireless networking. This requires a plug-in device - as with many other things, it's easier for the new M500 series Palms, Handeras and Visors. Xircom makes LAN modules for Palms (http://www.xircom.com/cda/page/0,1298,0-0-1_1-1576,00.html) and is one of the better known manufacturers of such devices. Such networks might be entirely local to your firm or hospital but you will find that they require lots of outside expertise, lots of money, and the tweaking of specialized software to run. Suitable for enabling hundreds of people, but perhaps not practical for a small group or individual.
Think about your needs and budget then look around for what's available.
REALLY MOBILE COMPUTING
If you work in prehospital care, you might have found PDAs useful for note-taking, or reference material such as treatment algorithms. Now you can also use your Palm or WinCE device to perform ECGs and monitor vital signs. Learn more at the following sites:
LAST ISSUE WE looked at a variety of tools to secure your private data files. I thought I would mention a few more today (gotta pad that summer edition).
At http://www.rnpalm.com/palm_security.htm, there is a useful little article on protecting your files. The author describes how to use encryption software to lock sensitive data on your PDA and also protect the backup files on your desktop PC. Recommended and all these tools are free.
PalmHack and CheckIn (www.palmation.com) provide a solution for locking the PDA on powering down or after set intervals. Padlock Hack is another password setting tool (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/mcdan/).
I have appended the utilities for you to experiment with (Chkin and PadlockHack).
Medical "Doc" of the Month
If you prescibe medications for patients, you may find it helpful to have access to the Ontario Limited Use Formulary in Palm format. Look for it at the following site: www.vex.net/~lawrence/download.html.
There are two upcoming conferences relevant for Palm users and developers:
- Palm Source is where programmers and software vendors meet and where the future for Palm devices largely takes shape. Check out their homepage for info on this year's shindig (http://www.palmsource.com).
- Mobile Insights is more aimed at managers and IT department staff who want to learn more about using mobile computing technology in their workplace. Not nearly as techie as the Palm Source event, it should be digestible by virtually any interested person. Look for more information at (http://www.mobileinsights.com/gomobile/gomo2001FALLabout.html).
In Times to Come
I have received several comments lately and they all go something like this: "Hey Paul, you always give us four or five choices for everything you talk about. Memory on my Palm only stretches so far! Which ones are best?" So, when it's time to fish or cut bait, just what products do I use on my Palm? Next month I tell all, along with a few suggestions for other reviews of software and hardware.
THIS IS ONE of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals. The author is a career emergency medicine specialist and inveterate computer nerd. Somehow my family put up with it all. The author is not reimbursed for this work nor do I accept paid placements or advertisements.
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