PDAs might increase survival during bioattack

A report in the International Journal of Healthcare Technology and Management says that utilizing a digital checklist for patients who are being administered emergency drugs during a bioterrorist attack can reduce the fatigue factor and save lives.

The report says that using a prescription system based on personal digital assistants or similar portable devices instead of a pen and paper would aid in rapidly and efficiently providing medication during a fast spreading viral infection.

The report was based on a simulated pandemic emergency created by Victoria Garshnek of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu's Telehealth Research Institute that sent participants through testing and dispensing points with volunteer clerks using either a personal digital assistant decision tree to process citizens or a paper-based version. The decision tree is a type of algorithm that checks the age range of a citizen, weight, gender, pregnancy or breastfeeding status, and allergies to medication, which must all be factored in when deciding upon the type of drug and dose to be administered.

"Analyses of the data found no significant difference in time or number of prescription errors in PDA vs. paper methods," Medical News Today says the report found. "This demonstrates that although we intuitively believe that technology will provide greater efficiency and accuracy this not always the case." However, they also found an important difference depending on whether a clerk used paper or PDA first. Clerks doing the paper method second did show a significant slowness compared to those who did paper first.

"This may indicate the presence of a fatigue factor from using the paper method and may indicate that during an outbreak, when clerks are tired, using an algorithm-driven PDA may help sustain efficiency," the team says. The PDA method was not only more effective than pen and paper, but has the added advantage of electronic storage of the data for easy subsequent retrieval and analysis and for medication inventory control.

"The results are encouraging and indicate that laypersons with little or no PDA experience can be quickly trained to use this technology and can efficiently serve in an emergency," the team concludes.