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10/5/2009
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Smartphones Fill Med School Prescription

The University of Louisville School of Medicine finds that smartphones give students faster access to health information, and more face-time with patients.

At the University of Louisville School of Medicine, doctors' scribbled prescription pads have been replaced with Epocrates and other smartphone software. Integrating smartphones into the students learning experience makes them more productive, gives them more face time with patients -- and saves wear and tear on lab coats.

The Louisville School of Medicine deploys mobile medical apps to its 600 medical students. Students use the tools for classroom study and and clinical work, giving them instant acccess to information, said Dr. Pradip Patel, associate vice-chair for medical education at the school.

"They can look up things on-the-fly, if they are in a patient room and don't want to go into their office or go online," he said. "They can do it at the point of access, as opposed to going out or going home and reading a book off-hours."

The mobile apps also reduce the number of books students have to carry around. "If you ever go to a medical campus and you see the residents walking around in their white lab coats, you see the pockets are all ripping away because they have this reference text in one pocket, and that reference text in another," Patel said. Mobile apps combine all the reference texts into a single device, along with PDA, pager, and cell phone -- with Web access, too, to get the latest, up-to-date medical information. For example, students can use their smartphones to look up H1N1 updates on the CDC Web site, for example

The school was initially concerned whether patients would accept the use of smartphones. It turned out to be a non-issue, Patel said. "Patients are very accepting of it. They don't think you're playing games, they know that students are using the phones to improve the clinical scenario going on in there," he said.

In the future, Patel hopes to get more faculty and staff to use mobile applications. "The younger generation is driving technology forward. We have to take a step backward and get the senior members of the medical community to jump on board," he said.

The medical school is also continuing to monitor patient perception of the devices, and looking for ways to improve use of them. For example, most patients now have their own smartphones, and healthcare providers can transfer information to those phones, such as information on managing flu and its symptoms.

The school's smartphone strategy has changed over several years. Initially, the organization gave the students PalmPilots with the software pre-installed. But now, the school just licenses the software for use on students' own phones.

Epocrates lets the school use its software for free -- a $95,000 savings -- but Epocrates provides other benefits besides the financial savings; having everyone using the same software brings the benefits of standardization, Patel said. "Because all students have the exact same product, we can standardize teaching," Patel said. Epocrates allow students to look up drug information, as well as search for possible interactions between drugs.

Last year, the school issued its students Windows-based smartphones from HTC, but this year the school is no longer giving out devices, just the software. "They can now use whatever product they want," Patel said, choosing among Palm, Windows, and iPhone devices.

In addition to Epocrates, the school gives students access to Skyscape 5-Minute Clinical Consult, a reference allowing students to look up information on diseases, as well as medical calculators, a medical dictionary, and other reference works.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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