A patient awaiting a test recently asked registered nurse Danny Lavertu about it. Lavertu didn’t know the answer, so he pulled out his hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) to find out about it. Within seconds, he could tell the patient about the test and what it would involve.

Registered Nurse Danny Lavertu shows patient George Whyman a picture of a brain from his personal digital assistant (PDA) to indicate the location of his stroke.

“It’s very helpful,” he says. “It makes you more efficient, it makes you safer.”

Lavertu and his colleague Ruth Whelan agree the ability to double check medications before administering them or finding out the best way to position a patient with a particular ailment is reassuring to them.

The PDAs have been in use for the past two years by third-year nursing students at the University of Saskatchewan. Downloadable applications provide students with the latest medical information at their fingertips. And the information is constantly updated wirelessly or by connecting to a computer at the end of the day, making the medical information more up to date than older reference books.

Those students continued using their PDAs on the job after joining Saskatoon Health Region. Whelan says it provides point of care access to information. “Patients and families are searching for information on the internet,” she says. “And they’re coming to the hospital with that information and asking us questions about it. Having this information at our fingertips allows us to answer those questions from credible sources.”

Registered Nurse Ruth Whelan believes PDAs help nurses blend experience with research.

The nurses aren’t necessarily using the internet to gather their information. Instead, the PDAs contain information from reliable medical journals and resource books. They act as a portable reference library.

“It’s really exciting to see how many tools are out there to help nurses and physicians do their jobs,” says Lori Chartier, director of information technology services and eHealth (ITS). “We know how important it is to patient care for clinicians to have clinical information right at the point of care and we are in the process of evaluating a variety of mobile devices for use with our soon-to-come electronic health records system.”

ITS is also working with the Region’s clinical leaders to improve the availability of computers on the nursing units so staff have access to online educational resources like the Nurse One portal provided by the Canadian Nursing Association.

Whelan says nurses and other care providers still need to rely on their own experience and intuition in providing patient care. But she believes the PDAs are a great asset in increasing patient safety and care.

Danny Lavertu is sold on the technology. He says he was a non-believer at first. “I thought it was a crutch, that we should know all this. But health care is so huge, it’s always evolving and always expanding. There’s no way you can know everything. To have that information at your fingertips is great.”