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Handheld Medical Devices: Changing the Face of Healthcare

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Anurag Ghosh • updated: 12/16/2008

Handheld medical devices are completely changing the way medical students and practicing medical professionals care for patients. Learn what these devices are and how they can be used.

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    Medical students, physician assistant students, and nursing students traditionally have had to rely on their memories for making diagnoses, prescribing medications, and ordering laboratory work for patients. However, the healthcare field has become overburdened with patients who need everything from preventive to critical care. Relying on memory can delay critical diagnoses or result in the wrong prescriptions being prescribed for patients. Handheld medical devices are ideal health care technology tools for improving the patient care experiencing and helping new medical professionals learn about diagnosing and prescribing correctly.

    Handheld Medical Devices Defined

    Handheld medical devices usually come in the form of a personal digital assistant or similar piece of equipment. These are loaded with medical software that has a wide range of capabilities for helping to diagnose medical conditions, prescribe drugs, or order laboratory studies. Handheld medical devices are usually pocket-sized to make it easy for doctors and other medical professionals to carry them in a lab coat or pair of scrubs.

    Wide Range of Functions

    The range of functions offered by handheld medical devices depends on the manufacturer and scope of the program. Some handheld medical devices are simply medical dictionaries that help students learn medical terms. Handheld medical devices that were created to be used as diagnostic tools can include medical dictionaries, signs and symptoms of medical conditions, recommended laboratory studies for specific medical conditions, and alerts for medical professionals. The alerts warn medical professionals about possible medication interactions or contraindicated medical treatments for certain conditions, which can help doctors and mid-level providers avoid critical or fatal mistakes.

    Benefits

    While handheld medical devices are not a replacement for a physical examination and diagnostic studies, they can be excellent tools for making differential diagnoses or aiding in the selection of a prescription medication for a patient. Because handheld medical devices offer information about prescriptions, such as warnings and hazards, medical professionals can avoid prescribing a drug to someone who should not take that drug due to their medical history or other prescription medications. Handheld medical devices are just one tool in a medical professional's diagnostic kit, and can help doctors and mid-level providers make diagnoses more quickly and accurately.

    Disadvantages

    Handheld medical devices are beneficial for medical professionals, but there are some drawbacks. These devices are often several hundred dollars, which can be very difficult for students to afford. Owners must also update their software as new updates become available to ensure that they always have the most up to date information. Relying too heavily on handheld medical devices can also cause students to stop using other medical research tools, which can be detrimental to their studies.



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