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Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: an evaluation

Wendy Hardyman1, Alison Bullock1*, Alice Brown1, Sophie Carter-Ingram2 and Mark Stacey3

Author Affiliations

1 Cardiff Unit for Research and Evaluation in Medical and Dental Education, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, 2nd Floor, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK

2 ACCS, London Deanery, London, UK

3 Wales Deanery, School of Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education, Cardiff University, 9th Floor, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4YS, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-6

Published: 21 January 2013



The amount of information needed by doctors has exploded. The nature of knowledge (explicit and tacit) and processes of knowledge acquisition and participation are complex. Aiming to assist workplace learning, Wales Deanery funded “iDoc”, a project offering trainee doctors a Smartphone library of medical textbooks.


Data on trainee doctors’ (Foundation Year 2) workplace information seeking practice was collected by questionnaire in 2011 (n = 260). iDoc baseline questionnaires (n = 193) collected data on Smartphone usage alongside other workplace information sources. Case reports (n = 117) detail specific instances of Smartphone use.


Most frequently (daily) used information sources in the workplace: senior medical staff (80% F2 survey; 79% iDoc baseline); peers (70%; 58%); and other medical/nursing team staff (53% both datasets). Smartphones were used more frequently by males (p < 0.01). Foundation Year 1 (newly qualified) was judged the most useful time to have a Smartphone library because of increased responsibility and lack of knowledge/experience.

Preferred information source varied by question type: hard copy texts for information-based questions; varied resources for skills queries; and seniors for more complex problems. Case reports showed mobile technology used for simple (information-based), complex (problem-based) clinical questions and clinical procedures (skills-based scenarios). From thematic analysis, the Smartphone library assisted: teaching and learning from observation; transition from medical student to new doctor; trainee doctors’ discussions with seniors; independent practice; patient care; and this ‘just-in-time’ access to reliable information supported confident and efficient decision-making.


A variety of information sources are used regularly in the workplace. Colleagues are used daily but seniors are not always available. During transitions, constant access to the electronic library was valued. It helped prepare trainee doctors for discussions with their seniors, assisting the interchange between explicit and tacit knowledge.

By supporting accurate prescribing and treatment planning, the electronic library contributed to enhanced patient care. Trainees were more rapidly able to medicate patients to reduce pain and more quickly call for specific assessments. However, clinical decision-making often requires dialogue: what Smartphone technology can do is augment, not replace, discussion with their colleagues in the community of practice.

Technology enhanced learning; Workplace learning; Workplace information source; Trainee doctors; Smartphones; Transitions