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University of Louisville: Med Schools Integrate Handhelds

The University of Louisville's Medical and Dental Schools are among the first in the country to distribute Palm handhelds to all medical and dental students as a part of their entire four-year curricula. Other universities require handhelds for their third and forth year students (clinical stages), but providing handhelds in year one is a new trend.

Ruth Greenberg, director of academic programs at the University Health Sciences Center and director of the Office of Curriculum Development and Evaluation, says this has "set apart" the university. It wants students to become familiar with technology at the beginning of their education. Students need to understand the role technology will play in their professional lives and be comfortable using the same tools they will use as practicing physicians and dentists.

Devising a Plan
Greenberg explains that the decisions concerning which PDA to purchase, as well as the overall plan regarding handhelds, was determined by a group of medical and dental students and faculty. This group researched and studied Palm handhelds, and provided information and feedback individually and in focus groups.

According to Greenberg, the plan that was agreed upon consists of two stages. Stage One, which has recently been accomplished, was to get the hardware in the hands of the users (first year medical and dental students). Stage Two will integrate the handhelds directly into the academic programs by working with individual courses. They propose to work one-on-one with course directors in order to accomplish the second stage, which is presently occurring.

"Handhelds are part of our students' professional future," Greenberg says, explaining that handhelds are tools that can instantly connect healthcare professionals to the up-to-date resources they need at the point of patient care. Immediate access to information is a tremendous benefit and timesaver, especially in the era of managed healthcare, where time is a premium, according to Greenberg. She believes that students should learn to use a PDA in their basic science years so that they'll be efficient handheld users when they become actively engaged in patient care in years three and four.

According to Greenberg, precisely how the first year students will use the handhelds has not been determined. She d'es believe it will be a more didactic experience for the first and second year students. Specific activities using the handhelds are currently being planned. It is expected that students will use such resources as the medical dictionary and the five-minute clinical consult.

Numerous other components are available through handhelds, such as drug interactions, information regarding medicines, specific patient conditions, etc. PDAs will provide all students with quick access to resources and an easier method of locating and recording information.

Building an Infrastructure
The University of Louisville's Health Sciences Center also plans to build a robust infrastructure to maximize the use of the handhelds and provide content and new applications to students via HotSync stations. When students place their handhelds in the HotSync cradle, applications and data can be quickly downloaded onto their handhelds with the touch of a button. The university is using Novell ZENworks for handhelds, a systems management product from Novell Inc., to centrally manage and update software applications, enabling the university to reduce the cost of providing IT support, while keeping students and faculty up-to-date.

The purchase of the Palm m500 handhelds follows the University of Louisville Medical School's one-year study of third-year students using handhelds in their clinical rotations. This study was conducted in the fall of 2002.

Greenberg believes it is one of the first investigations of a large group using handhelds in medical education. More than 135 students and preceptors who oversee clinical rotations participated in the study, which confirmed what Greenberg expected—handhelds are a valuable tool in medical education. Greenberg states that they are currently focused on designing an infrastructure that will allow faculty to deliver more to students on their PDAs and PDA-based activities that engage first and second year students more actively with this technology.

For more information, contact Dr. Ruth Greenberg, director of academic programs at the University Health Sciences Center and director of the Office of Curriculum Development and Evaluation, University of Louisville, at [email protected].

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