BACKGROUND: Use of electronic medical information resources by health-care professionals is increasing. Portable handheld computers have facilitated access to medical knowledge at the point of patient care. Little is known about the impact of mobile medical information tools on physician learning or improvement in decision-making. STUDY DESIGN: A 6-month prospective, randomized pilot study of 12 first-year trauma and critical care Fellows at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center was conducted from November 1, 2001 to May 31, 2002 at the University of Maryland. Six Fellows were randomized to use the Johns Hopkins Antibiotic Guide (JHABX) on the RIM Blackberry personal digital assistant (PDA) for 6 months of their clinical rotation. Six Fellows were randomized to the non-PDA-use arm. Three-month and 6-month examination raw scores on knowledge of infectious diseases management among Blackberry PDA users versus non-PDA users were obtained. Measurement of antibiotic decision accuracy by diagnosis at 3 and 6 months among Fellows randomized to use the JHABX on the RIM Blackberry PDA was also evaluated. RESULTS: PDA group demonstrated a considerable improvement in test scores over the 3-month time interval, compared with their baseline score (40.8 ± 2.3 versus 34.3 ± 4.6, p < 0.05) and compared with the non-PDA group (40.8 ± 2.3 versus 36.8 ± 3.3, p < 0.01). Improvement became even more notable at the 6-month interval again, compared with themselves (43.8 ± 4.5 versus 34.3, p < 0.001) and the non-PDA group (43.8 ± 4.5 versus 38.1 ± 5.1, p < 0.001). There was no notable improvement in test scores at 3 months or 6 months in the control group. Overall antibiotic decision accuracy substantially improved from 66% during the initial 3-month period to 86.6% during the second 3-month period (p = 0.005) among users of the JHABX. This was most evident in respiratory, blood, and skin and soft tissue infections. CONCLUSIONS: Web-based handheld technology is highly effective for supplying information to support infectious disease clinical practice. In a hospital intensive care setting, results of this study demonstrate that resident physician knowledge and antibiotic decision selection accuracy improved among Fellows using the JHABX. Reasons for this difference can be multifold and not thoroughly evaluated from this small pilot study. Future studies on the impact of point-of-care technology on patient outcomes are warranted.
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