Ontario’s nurses are looking to PDAs as the way of the future.

PDAs (personal data assistants) are small personal handheld computers nurses refer to when they treat a patient. These handhelds often contain information on practice guidelines, medication, Internet access and GPS positioning, and have served as handy tools for the health-care professionals who have them. The devices have served nurses so well, in fact, that the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care — working together with the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and the University of Toronto — is spearheading an initiative to distribute 1,454 PDAs to several health-care centres across the province, among them hospitals, long-term care and health-care facilities in correctional institutes.

The idea behind the distribution of the PDAs is to make it easier for nurses to do their job on-site, says Rishma Nazrali, project manager at the RNAO.

“I’ll give you a for example: The RNAO has a guideline on staging of wounds and management of wounds,” she says. “A nurse might have a patient with a specific wound, but isn’t sure how to go about managing it. She would have this PDA with a guideline on it, and so she would be able to, right there at the point of care, be able to quickly access the necessary information, without having to track down a desktop computer.”

While the ministry is in charge of the initiative, providing the content stored on the devices is the RNAO’s bailiwick. The association has made an abridged version of its Best Practice Guidelines, a series of documents hundreds of pages long condensed into an online format. Nazrali says this is ideal for more isolated nurses who work in remote communities, among other areas.

“A lot of sectors that really don’t have a lot of computer technology would be able to access this: Long-term care facilities, the north and the rural areas, public health, community health centres, and corrections — all of these sectors would have less access to computers and technology and less available resources.”

Completion of the PDA distribution is slotted for the end of June, but in the meantime Nazrali says more applications for these devices are in the works, and hopefully they’ll work well enough to justify having them all over the province.

“I think that it’s the province’s decision, but the plan is to have a second round of applications (for the PDAs). Hopefully this will have some long-term effects,” she says.

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