PDAs and Smartphones: Clinical Tools for Physicians

Andrew E. Craig, MSN, FNP-C


October 09, 2009

In This Article

Smartphone or PDA?

Both smartphones and PDAs allow you to perform many functions that were once reserved for the desktop computer. Simply stated, a smartphone is a cell phone that has the ability to add additional third-party software. In addition to running medical software programs that can help you, smartphones can play videos, take pictures, and play music.

A BlackBerry is a particular brand of smartphone that is very popular. It made its mark providing outstanding corporate email support to business users, yet it is very popular with noncorporate users as well.

In contrast, a PDA is a mini-personal computer without cell phone capability. As a clinical tool, either a PDA or a smartphone will accomplish what you need and will help you throughout your workday. With either type of device, you can access clinical reference programs that give you instant information when you're with a patient.

If you work a lot in the hospital and plan to access the Internet regularly, you may be better off with a smartphone. One advantage to having a smartphone is that you can access the Internet from wherever you have a good cellular signal. In contrast, a PDA requires a Wi-Fi connection to do this. Even if Wi-Fi is available, you may not be permitted to access the hospital's Wi-Fi network with a personally owned device; that could prevent you from using the Web-based programs that you want to use. Or you may be able to convince the hospital's IT department to provide you with a handheld device for this purpose, particularly if you spend a lot of time there.

At your own practice, setting up Wi-Fi access for your device is a fairly simple matter for your IT person to do. Make sure you employ security features such as data encryption and strong passwords to ensure the safety and security of your patient data. Here's an additional tip for better security: have your IT technician configure your office network's firewall to only allow wireless traffic to pass to and from your particular device, as opposed to any device that knows the password. Every computing device has a unique code called a "MAC address" assigned that is not changeable. By configuring your firewall to only allow traffic from a device with your MAC address, you add an extra layer of protection should your password ever get compromised. Even if a rogue user attempts to crack your system using your stolen password and their own PDA or laptop, the firewall will refuse access if the MAC address doesn't match up.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.