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 Psyber Psychiatry

                      Personal digital assistants
                          Which one is right for your practice?
                                                        John Luo, MD
                                                  Assistant clinical professor and
                                                 director of psychiatric informatics
                                                     Department of psychiatry
                                             University of California-Davis, Sacramento

PDAs come in many models and offer a range                              Also try to envision:
                                                                    •   where you would carry the device
of features and extras. Here's help sorting
                                                                   •    where, when, and how you would charge it when needed
through the options.                                               •    what connections to computers for data exchange are
                                                                   •    with whom you would share data
           ersonal digital assistants (PDAs) are becoming          •    and from whom you could get technical support.

 P         more commonplace in practice because they
           immediately provide critical information at the
                                                                   You may have trouble thinking that far ahead, but doing so
                                                                   will help you narrow your PDA choices.
point of care.                                                     2. Which operating system should I use? A PDA operates on
      If you’re in the market for a handheld computer,             one of four main operating systems:
chances are you’re fazed by the multitude of available mod-        •    Palm OS, the most popular world wide
els, upgrades, and extras. Choosing a PDA is not that diffi-       •    EPOC OS, which is more popular in Europe
cult, however, if you take the time to assess your needs and       •    Pocket PC, which is rapidly gaining popularity
do a little homework. Start by answering these four ques-          •    and Linux OS, which only recently entered the
tions:                                                                  PDA market.
1. Why do I need a PDA? Look at                                                                  Choosing a PDA platform is
                                           John Luo, MD
your work patterns and see how a                                                            much like deciding between
                                                                Dr. Luo’s column is
PDA would fit in. Do you frequently                             featured monthly on         Macintosh and Windows. The dif-
look up DSM-IV criteria and other                               CURRENT PSYCHIATRY’s        ferences between PDAs based on
reference information? Are you con-                             Web site at www.            Pocket PC or Palm OS have been
stantly writing prescriptions, giving                        diminishing in the last year. All
presentations, or assessing drug-drug                                                       PDAs have similar basic personal
interactions? Do you find yourself reg-                                                     information manager functions, but
ularly checking your schedule?                                                              available software, hardware fea-

48      VOL. 2, NO. 1 / JANUARY 2003
tures, and accessories set them apart.                                               to someone who has just purchased what
Pocket PC-based PDAs generally have                                                  he or she thought was the latest model.
                                                     Beginners are probably
much more memory and more diverse multi-                                                  If you are a beginner, plan to keep
media capabilities—but also lower battery life              wise to purchase your PDA device for at least 1 year while
(1 day with average use) and compatibility with             PDAs locally and you gradually learn to use it to its full
fewer software titles—than do Palm OS devices.                  obtain support potential. Consider spending about $200
      Because of their higher memory capacity, Pocket       through the store for a device, then upgrade only when
PC PDAs may generally be better suited to:                                           newer devices provide more features that
•     large groups or organizations                                                  you can use. Avid users may upgrade
•     and users who rely heavily on multimedia,                        more frequently and spend $500 or more for a device.
      large data sets, or interface with Microsoft
      Office documents.                                          Palm vs. Pocket PC: Finer points
      However, newer PDAs that are based on Palm OS 5 and        Palm OS PDAs. If you are new to PDAs, start with a Palm
employ the StrongARM processor (as do Pocket PC devices)         OS-based PDA from Palm, Sony, or Handspring. The Sony
offer greatly improved function in these areas. Compared         models make more sense if you have or plan to purchase
with Pocket PC PDAs, Palm OS devices are much more intu-         other Sony products (e.g., digital cameras, digital camcorders,
itive and easier to use, offer longer battery life (1 week or    computers) because the PDA’s external memory stick can be
more with average use), and are compatible with more med-        shared among the products.
ical software titles. More physicians use Palm OS PDAs                Handspring offers models integrated with a cellular
because of their simplicity and reliability.                     phone if you prefer a combined device. The Palm Tungsten T
      Consider either a Palm or Pocket PC PDA. EPOC PDAs         has built-in Bluetooth wireless mobile capability and offers
are good devices, but Psion, a major manufacturer,               portable keyboards that fold out to full size.
has ceased development of EPOC devices to focus
on specific markets. Linux PDAs are only recom-             Box
mended to users who are familiar with Linux or
                                                          PDA MANUFACTURERS
UNIX and are capable of writing their own
software.                                               Palm OS
3. Where should I purchase my PDA? Visit any            Manufacturer URL
major computer, office supply, or electronics or        Palm
chain retailer and check out the different models       Handspring
and manufacturers. Consider your priorities on          HandEra
features such as size, screen resolution, color,        Sony
weight, memory, wireless capability, and accesso-       Acer
ry options. Consider purchasing there or online.
                                                        Pocket PC OS
      The level of support you need should dictate
your point of purchase. Online retailers usually
charge less for PDAs, but devices may be back-
ordered and support often is offered only through
the manufacturer. Beginners are probably wise
to purchase locally and obtain support through
                                                        Zayo (Asus)
the store.
4. How can I avoid purchasing a soon-to-be-
obsolete model? Because PDA technology is
improving so rapidly, new devices are frequent-
ly reaching the market. This can be frustrating

                                                                            VOL. 2, NO. 1 / JANUARY 2003   Current
 Like what you’ve seen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Psyber Psychiatry
                                                                                                            Practical Clinical Reviews

                                                                                                           p S Y C H I AT R Y
                                                                                                           A   D o w d e n   P u b l i c a t i o n                ■            V o l .       1 ,   N o .    1 1     /   N o v e m b e r    2 0 0 2

                                                                                                                                           Borderline personality
                                                                                                                                           disorder unmasked

         s a practicing psychiatrist
                                                                                                                                                    Does it exist? Diagnostic questions
                                                                                                                                                    linger after 40 years of debate

 A in clinical care, you are                                nt
                                                                                                                                           Don’t let cytochromecP450
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                                                                                                                                           4 effective antidepressants
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Pocket PC PDAs. Not long ago, Pocket PC PDAs were only
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              compatible with software specific to the device’s processor.
                                                       CASES THAT TEST YOUR SKILLS
                                                                                                                                           Pastoral counseling:
                                                           Mr. I eats lunch in his car to avoid                                            What is it, and when can it help?                                                          CH
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1              IN 2002

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Because Pocket PC devices offer such a short battery life,
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 Your practice will continue to benefit from                                                                                                                                                              www.c
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          om                                                  consider a device with interchangeable lithium batteries or
 review articles written by the specialty's leading                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           purchase a portable charger. If you choose a Pocket PC with
 experts, plus Primary Care Updates, Cases that Test                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          integrated wireless connectivity, be aware that your battery
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              life will be about 2 to 3 hours. Avoid the Jornada line of hand-
 your Skills, Psychotropic Drug Updates, and Pearls. You
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              helds, as these will be phased out in the merger of Compaq
 will enjoy the confidence that comes with being armed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and Hewlett Packard.
 with practical, evidence-based information.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              To learn more about PDAs
 Don’t wait!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Internet has a wealth of information on these devices.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              PDABuzz (, PDAGeek (,

    Fax: 201-782-5319         Please print your name and address
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and Handango ( offer reviews, user
    exactly as they appear on your mailing label. OR
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              opinions, and useful links. Two excellent magazines,
▼ ▼

    Call: 201-505-5886 OR                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Handheld Computing Magazine ( and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Pocket PC Magazine (, are devoted
    E-mail:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                to PDA/handheld computers. Manufacturers also post exten-
 * Your specialty must be registered as psychiatry with the American                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          sive information about their PDA devices on their Web sites
   Medical Association to qualify for a free subscription to CURRENT                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (Box).
   PSYCHIATRY. Offer limited to psychiatrists in direct patient care, plus
   residents and faculty. If you are not receiving CURRENT PSYCHIATRY but                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     If you have any questions about PDAs or comments about the
   meet the qualifications, please contact the AMA at 800-262-3211 to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         online Psyber Psychiatry column, send an e-mail to
   update your data.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 ■ Yes! Please continue my FREE subscription to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Related resources
        C URRENT P SYCHIATRY .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Carlson J. Palm organizers: visual quick start guide (2nd ed). Berkeley,
 ■ No, thanks                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      CA: Peachpit Press, 2001.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Chan C, Luo J, Kennedy R. Concise guide to computers in clinical psychi-
 Name                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              atry (1st ed). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 2002.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Dyzsel B. Palm for dummies (2nd ed). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing,
 City                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Underdahl B. Pocket PCs for dummies (2nd ed). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Publishing, 2002.
 State                                 ZIP
 Specialty                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     DISCLOSURE
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Dr. Luo reports no financial relationship with any company whose products are
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed by Dr. Luo in this column are his
 Type of Practice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              own and do not necessarily reflect those of CURRENT PSYCHIATRY.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             VOL. 2, NO. 1 / JANUARY 2003

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