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Open Access Research article

House officer procedure documentation using a personal digital assistant: a longitudinal study

Steven B Bird* and David R Lane

Author Affiliations

Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2006, 6:5  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-6-5

Published: 26 January 2006



Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) have been integrated into daily practice for many emergency physicians and house officers. Few objective data exist that quantify the effect of PDAs on documentation. The objective of this study was to determine whether use of a PDA would improve emergency medicine house officer documentation of procedures and patient resuscitations.


Twelve first-year Emergency Medicine (EM) residents were provided a Palm V (Palm, Inc., Santa Clara, California, USA) PDA. A customizable patient procedure and encounter program was constructed and loaded into each PDA. Residents were instructed to enter information on patients who had any of 20 procedures performed, were deemed clinically unstable, or on whom follow-up was obtained. These data were downloaded to the residency coordinator's desktop computer on a weekly basis for 36 months. The mean number of procedures and encounters performed per resident over a three year period were then compared with those of 12 historical controls from a previous residency class that had recorded the same information using a handwritten card system for 36 months. Means of both groups were compared a two-tailed Student's t test with a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. One hundred randomly selected entries from both the PDA and handwritten groups were reviewed for completeness. Another group of 11 residents who had used both handwritten and PDA procedure logs for one year each were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding their satisfaction with the PDA system.


Mean documentation of three procedures significantly increased in the PDA vs handwritten groups: conscious sedation 24.0 vs 0.03 (p = 0.001); thoracentesis 3.0 vs 0.0 (p = 0.001); and ED ultrasound 24.5 vs. 0.0 (p = 0.001). In the handwritten cohort, only the number of cardioversions/defibrillations (26.5 vs 11.5) was statistically increased (p = 0.001). Of the PDA entries, 100% were entered completely, compared to only 91% of the handwritten group, including 4% that were illegible. 10 of 11 questioned residents preferred the PDA procedure log to a handwritten log (mean ± SD Likert-scale score of 1.6 ± 0.9).


Overall use of a PDA did not significantly change EM resident procedure or patient resuscitation documentation when used over a three-year period. Statistically significant differences between the handwritten and PDA groups likely represent alterations in the standard of ED care over time. Residents overwhelmingly preferred the PDA procedure log to a handwritten log and more entries are complete using the PDA. These favorable comparisons and the numerous other uses of PDAs may make them an attractive alternative for resident documentation.