In the palm of your hand

July 1, 2001
A patient with an unfamiliar name has just paged late Saturday afternoon while you are shopping at the mall.

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

A patient with an unfamiliar name has just paged late Saturday afternoon while you are shopping at the mall. "I saw your associate last week and now I am in a lot of pain." You pull a small, handheld unit out of your pocket and note that this person was last seen two years ago for an emergency, has an unpaid balance, and is allergic to penicillin!

Many practice-management systems can make copies of data files that will run on these new units, allowing the busy practitioner instant access to vital information. Palm (3Com) developed the current concept of Personal Digital Assistants — PDAs. Since they were the first big splash on the market, people refer to all of them — incorrectly — as Palm Pilots.

Actually, Handspring, maker of the Visor, and Sony's Clie are similar-sized units that use Palm's operating system, much like desktop computers that use the Windows operating system. All units come with the same features and programs that are part of Palm's OS. However, hundreds of programs are available on the Web that can be substituted or added to these units, many at no cost.

Although hardly a replacement for your appointment book, a PDA is quite useful for personal notes about meetings and task lists. You can also quickly transcribe those post-it notes that accumulate all day long and back them up on a computer.

One popular program that many dentists are using is ePocrates. This is a comprehensive database of drugs with information similar to the PDR. It can hold information about dosage, interactions, side effects, and other notes right at your fingertips. The Web savvy can visit this company's Web site at

Scott Johnson, DMD, has put together a wonderful site, www.den This site contains a link to ePocrates, plus a lot of other information, including detailed step-by-step instructions on how to get information from the Web into your PDA. It also has several other useful links. In the January issue of Dental Economics — search "PDA Dalin" at — we listed several palm sites where you can also look for information and programs.

The "other" handheld system comes from Microsoft. Formerly Windows CE, it is now called Pocket PC. It runs on units from Compaq, HP, and others. You can run Windows programs such as Word and Excel along with many programs that are modified from the PC to run on this platform. Additionally, these more powerful units have a high-resolution, well-lit screen. They also include features such as handwriting recognition (including script) and a media player with a built-in microphone. You can record voice memos, play MP3 files, and even play videos.

Most practice-management systems have focused on the Palm operating system; however, (Thompson Dental) has chosen the Pocket PC. Both systems allow users to "beam" information and programs to each other using an infrared transmitter/receiver. The units must be close to one another and in direct sight.

An interesting new product from Cybiko, Inc. ( is a handheld unit for teenagers. Costing about $99, it keeps lists and also has a calendar. Its wireless transmitter can travel 300 feet, even through walls — unlike PDAs. Teens can chat, send and receive local email, and play interactive games. This unit may be ideal for the reception area; I also thought it might be useful in the office to supplement our colored-light communication system. However, other products — like CAI (, Softcom (kcinternation and Smokesignalsoftware (.com) — are specifically designed to perform interoffice communication through the computer network.

In a limited survey I conducted recently on the Internet, most dentists did not use handhelds; those who did focused only on the items mentioned here. Specialists and dentists who work in multiple locations tend to predominate as PDA users. If you have any ideas or hints, please e-mail them to me. Or if I see you at a meeting, just "beam" me!

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by the technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site ( and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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