St. Joseph’s Hospital shifts research to wireless devices

St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto is changing the way it collects research through a mobile application that will allow data to be put into Palm devices.

Hospital researchers will be able to create their own questionnaires

and electronic forms using mobile software from Toronto firm Digital Speed.

“”What attracted me to it was its flexibility around collecting data in a very portable manner,”” said Dr. George Tolomiczenko, director of St. Joseph’s research department. “”It makes it fairly easy to manage the data as its coming in. . . . You can keep track in a centralized way, and also juggle umpteen different projects at the same time.””

The simplicity of the product is one of its largest selling points, according to Digital Speed CEO Stefanos Lialias. The software uses extensible markup language (XML) to create forms that can synch to other data stores or analysis tools like Oracle and SAS. Information can be transmitted wirelessly or through a docking station.

“”It provides tools where the layperson, not IT people, can create rich, dynamic mobile and wireless workforms,”” he said.

Quick access to empirical research could change the way physicians make patient diagnoses, said Tolomiczenko. “”Often physicians rely on their own experience to make the judgment calls, but this can allow for an actuarial approach.

“”Where it could come in handy, for instance, is as a decision support tool on patients who might need referral to a geriactric after-care program,”” he added. “”Collecting the data through handhelds will allow it to immediately generate a flag that says, ‘this person should get a consult in this area.’

At a future date, St. Joseph’s may be able to tie the handhelds into a pharmacy database, which would expedite the prescription process.

“”What I like about Digital Speed is that there is a lot of potential for linkages with existing systems,”” said Tolomiczenko.

The Digital Speed model for handhelds is to remove any trace of the original operating system and entirely replace it with the company’s own code.

“”We take an iPaq or a Palm, strip off its existing OS which is deemed very vulnerable — no viruses, no worms, no spyware, no trojans can be introduced as they are with those operating systems, because we’re literally just creating a dumb mobile terminal,”” explained Lialias.

While that may make the system more secure, it doesn’t fit with the way St. Joseph’s uses PDAs. Tolomiczenko said about half of hospital staff use Palms, often for simple day-to-day operations like scheduling or e-mail. The PalmSource operating system will have to co-exist with the Digital Speed software in order to retain those functions.

Tolomiczenko said that the hospital is moving towards using PDAs in more areas of patient care, and the ability to collect research is a step in the right direction. He said that hospitals sometimes farm out research — particularly surveys — to outside companies, but “”people are less anxious about giving information if they know its an in-house arrangement versus ‘Where’s this info going? Who’s using it for what purposes?'””

Digital Speed software is currently in trials at other hospitals, according to Lialias, but can be applied to various industries. EMI Music, for example, is using Digital Speed-enabled handhelds for its field customer service force. Established in 2002, Digital Speed is a member of the University of Toronto’s Exceler@tor program.


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