Devices & Technology

Nurses Benefit from Bedside PDAs

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Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC

Personal digital assistants, often called PDAs, are handheld computers that have uses as varied as a calculator, address book, clock, calendar, wireless Internet web browser and wireless e-mail tool. In increasing numbers, vendors are creating applications to bring data to clinicians – anywhere, anytime. Last year, Marlton, New Jersey-based Virtua Health completed a PDA pilot program with nurses systemwide.

The Technology Features

Beth McCleery, RN, CCRN, a neonatal nurse at Virtua Health, explained the way she uses her PDA in caring for babies every day.

McCleery was asked to participate as one of six nurses in the neonatal unit in a pilot test of PDA technology to see how well it fit in with nursing care. The PDA allows McCleery to view lab results, patient demographics, diagnostic reports and medication lists from Virtua Health's patient information system on the hand-held device. The devices access the information via wireless technology, allowing the users to view the data from the bedside.

Patient lists are loaded directly to the PDA, allowing the nurse to select a patient from a drop-down menu, rather than having to enter a patient name and sift through the list. Critical labs are highlighted, calling a nurse’s attention to these results.

In addition to data from Virtua Health’s patient information system, a few tools are loaded. A neonatal drug database, Neo-Fax, enables access to the drug formulary and drug interaction information. It also has a dose calculator that allows the nurses to enter the baby’s weight and days of age and calculate the dose. This translates into triple checking of doses, following the physician and the pharmacist.

Recently, adult medications were added with the Lexi-Comp Reader Pharmacy form.

And, what would a computer—even a handheld one—be without access to the Internet? These PDAs do not disappoint. The nurses have Internet access, which affords them the opportunity to read nursing Web pages and research questions.

McCleery mentioned one more feature: The PDAs have the capability to “beam” information from one PDA to another.


Having the patient data available at the bedside allows the nurses to have more rapid access to the results. The parents of newborns in the unit want to be informed step-by-step as the tests and treatments are performed, and they constantly have questions for the nurses. This device allows the nurse to find that information right in the room without having to leave the parents.

McCleery shared a recent experience. One of the babies she was treating had a head ultrasound. The baby’s mom was understandably anxious to get the results. McCleery was able to use her PDA to access the results from the bedside and immediately provide the results to the mom.

Like other technologies, the PDA allows the nurses to be more efficient. With less time being spent looking for results, there is more time to spend with the patients and interacting with parents. McCleery, for one, wouldn’t give that up for anything.


The nurses attended a class when receiving the PDA. The class focused on the device, password changes and navigating with the dropdown menus. McCleery said the device is simple to learn.

Looking Ahead

The pilot was so successful that PDAs were provided to nurses throughout the hospital, as well as at Virtua Health’s three other hospitals. In May 2006, clinical pharmacists and infection control practitioners were also given the devices and trained.

McCleery said that she sees benefits for nurses in all the units, particularly on a unit that is spread over a wide geography. The key to the benefit of the PDAs is nurses’ acceptance of it into the unit.

“Don’t be afraid of new technology, become comfortable with it,” she said. “It offers so much and is so exciting, take advantage of it.”

© 2006. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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