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    UHN Palm Newsletter (October 2002) - Palm Smörgasbord

    Those of you who have been following this newsletter for a while know that I am always looking for new ways to use my handheld computer at work. This month I didn’t come up with a snappy central theme but I do have lots of little tidbits about education, mobile health care and development tools for your Palm. So I just decided to lay them all out like a buffet for you to snack on. Eat, eat….

    Take Note

    Like most doctors, I am constantly learning new tricks and techniques. I used to keep paper notes and collect them in a notebook in the bulging pockets of my white coat. Finally, the pockets became full. Nowadays, I find myself jotting down a quick point or two in my Palm’s Memopad. Unfortunately I have now accumulated quite a collection of disjointed items. Using the Find tool on the Palm lets me locate a specific item when I need it but that’s far from being organized. My mother, a former librarian, would not approve.

    I could create a number of categories (“Cardiology”, “Clinical Skills”, etc) in the Memopad and use them to organize the notes by topic. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of headings one can create in the Memopad. And each item is limited to four kilobytes in size – about two pages of typed text.

    If you use QuickOffice or Documents to Go you can convert Microsoft Word documents on your PC into documents on your handheld, and there are fewer limits to categories and so forth. With a bit of work you can create a table of contents or an index with active links or bookmarks to help you jump to the different notes.

    Another strategy is to create a website on your PC’s hard drive, organizing a table of contents and subsidiary sections any way you like. Then you can convert this website into a set of linked documents on your Palm. There are many programs that can help you accomplish this. Some of the most popular are AvantGo, Plucker, and iSiloX. I have written about these in previous issues. One note about Plucker: its interface has been recently improved and it is now easier to use. The iSilo converter is very good at rendering tables and graphic images. A relatively new kid on the block is HandStory, which also is able to convert web pages, pictures and Microsoft Word files to a Palm-readable format.

    AvantGo is a free program and is popular for pulling web content onto your Palm. Unfortunately, the company now charges a steep price for software to convert private material off your own hard drive. There is an economical solution, however, if you have access to a personal website. Many internet service providers, such as Rogers or Sympatico High Speed in Toronto, provide you with a few megabytes of space for your own personal website. Instead of photos of the family pets, you could build a website with clinical or reference data, put it up on the web, and use AvantGo’s free online service to convert the site for your Palm. AvantGo may decide to restrict this capability in future so look into it on their website before making up your mind what to do.

    There are other options. If you own an electronic version of a textbook you probably have a reader program specifically for that material. Many of these e-book programs can read regular Palm DOC files too. And many of these publishing companies offer free or inexpensive development tools to roll your own book. Popular programs include PalmReader (formerly Peanut Reader) and MobiPocket. The principle advantage of these programs is that they create a neat package for big articles , groups of articles or full-length books. The principle inconvenience with these programs is the need to reformat the source material to the proprietary code that the converter program can interpret.

    As an aside, there is another annoyance to commercial e-book software. All these reader programs will eat up a chunk of your handheld’s precious memory. Trying to find just one that will read all your text documents is difficult, due to the aforementioned proprietary formatting. For the three medical and pharmaceutical references I carry on my Handera, for example, I have three incompatible readers as well as iSilo for ordinary DOC and web files. Whichever one I open lists all the documents on my Palm, including ones it is unable to format properly. Then I have to mess around until I find something that looks readable on screen….

    In the end, I have chosen to go with iSiloX (since I already own it). I started with a residency curriculum document developed by the American College of Emergency Physicians. I have created a web page with this as my table of contents. As I add new notes, I create links to the table of contents and recompile the Palm version. It’s flexible and updating individual pages is easy.

    Most users will find that QuickOffice or Documents to Go will meet their needs for small document conversion. The bigger challenge is how to organize the material for easy retrieval. If you are creating a website and wish to provide the same material in parallel online and on handheld computers, then iSilo or Plucker may suit you better. If you have tables or charts or illustrations that you need to include, then you should test various systems before commiting yourself.

    But, more important, take some time to think about the purpose and use of your portable note collection. Think about what you use most often and how. Then create an index system or table of contents to help you organize the material for effective retrieval. Starting off in this way will help you get more out of your PDA.

    Your Library

    Once you have your own notes organized, you may want to see what everyone else has been publishing. The worldwide community of Palm users has created all sorts of books and notes and you may find some useful. Some places to look for medical material:

    Commercial medical texts are also widely available. Check out the following:

    The following sites review and list commercial medical software as well as carrying lists of downloadable medical reference files:

    This and That

    Palm Desktop 4.1 has been released: new look and feel for Windows XP or OS X. It also has a new expense application. See it at the Palm site.

    Launcher X is a much-touted replacement for the standard Palm application launcher. It looks pretty but is still vapourware. Still, you can get an idea of what is being planned (and widely imitated) for the Palm user interface in this InfoSync review.

    Bored? Check out this simulator for old games, which lets them run on Palm handholds.

    Attention Mac users: there’s a new “conduit” for Entourage for the Mac from Microsoft: if you use Office: Mac for OS X and Entourage, you can Hot Sync your Palm to your Entourage data using this free software. Get Office: Mac Service Release 1 and make sure you are using Palm Desktop 4 or newer on your Mac. The OS X version should be on Palm's website. The only Palms that this doesn't always work for are the new Sony NR70 and NR70V Clies.

    And, just in time, Missing Sync will help any Clie hotsync with a Mac. This is reputed to not always be reliable but if your Palm device can’t hotsync to your Mac then test this program.

    PicturePlus 1.0 (available at PalmGear) views JPGs without conversion, on VFS data cards or in RAM.

    Are you looking for a patient tracking program? PatientKeeper is an open standard software application for linking with a variety of hospital lab and registration databases. It has an extensive programming kit for linking to other Palm apps and hospital systems (eg. Cerner).

    Turbo-Doc is another patient charting program. It is free for the Palm PDA but is also designed to link to the desktop PC version – which is emphatically not free, but may be useful to some clinic and hospital PDA users.

    Kevin Wolfe's website has numerous tips for fixing common Palm problems. Either this guy has had the worst imaginable computing experiences or he has collected these pearls of wisdom from around the world….

    The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine is now available for Palm: read the review at NewMediaMedicine.

    Ovid@Hand clinical support tools about drugs, interactions, and disease profiles are now available for the Palm. Learn more about these programs at Ovid's website.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    This handy chart shows the latest American childhood immunization schedule. It requires no additional software to run on your Palm PDA.

    Hack of the Month

    Well, this month I just didn’t find one that I would want to load onto my PDA, so I decided not to burden you with any either. Instead, I recommend that users of MedCalc get the latest upgrade from the website (use the link).

    Medical Computing

    At a recent neurosurgery conference the organizers set up wireless networking servers and gave attendees wireless Palm PDAs. The PDAs could be used to get conference activities (eg. brochures from vendors, meeting schedules, messaging) as well as to demonstrate patient care software systems. Clever. Attendees even got to keep the Palm 705s....

    In Times to Come

    Have you ever wondered just how well a Palm could replace a full-fledged laptop PC? Next month I will report on my recent tinkering with some positive and negative results.

    Also, a note about format. I have been looking for ways to shrink the size of the newsletter, to avoid overloading some of your email boxes (Yahoo and Hotmail users, this means you). In future, I will probably just put links to Hacks or other software instead of bundling them with the newsletter. And how do you like it without the pictures? I may include illustrations in future issues but more sparingly than in the past. Let me know how you feel about these changes.

    Until next time, 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.