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Mobile computing devices are computers that are carried about and utilise wireless technology to connect to wired networks. Mobile computing is well suited for vertical industries such as healthcare, especially where a good number of healthcare workers constantly on the move. The concept of anytime anywhere access is being promoted as the way to go by mobile computing champions.

Mobile computing devices have been successfully deployed in some areas of healthcare. They have been used in business areas such as patient information tracking, messaging healthcare workers, billing and scheduling. They have also been used in clinical areas such as point of care information capture, decision support and electronic prescriptions. Below are descriptions of devices that are used in healthcare.



Notebook computers started off life being known as laptop computers (because they could fit onto the user’s lap). The first commercially successful laptop computer was the IBM PC convertible, which was introduced by IBM in 1986 and since then many manufacturers, such as Toshiba, Apple Computers and Dell, have released their own laptops.

Notebook computers of today are smaller than their earlier laptop counterparts. They typically weigh less than 5 pounds and have a battery life of about a few hours. They offer about the same power and functionality of a desktop PC, but because they have to be specially designed and manufactured they tend to cost a bit more.

Notebooks computers are sometimes basically used as mobile workstations in healthcare. They are put on trolleys and wheeled around to various points of care, where they access the network through wireless points of access.


The tablet PC is a lightweight PC that comes in the shape of a flatbed panel and uses handwriting technology that allows a user to take notes using natural handwriting on a stylus or digital pen-sensitive touch screen. Input can also be entered using an onscreen or standard keyboard.

The first tablet PC was introduced by Apple computers in the 1980s and was called the Newton. It was commercially unsuccessful and its production was discontinued.

However the interest in the tablet PC has been revived by Microsoft and most of the commercially tablet PCs run its specially modified Windows XP operating system - Windows XP Tablet Edition

The tablet PC comes in tow versions – the slate version, which uses similar to a large personal digital assistant (PDA) and connects to peripherals such a keyboard or a mouse, and the convertible version, which comes with an attached keyboard which can be folded back on itself.

The Tablet PC has, since it’s comeback, stirred some interest in the healthcare sector (a market that Microsoft is definitely targeting for the successful rollout of the Tablet PC). This is probably due to the fact that it has a larger screen that the traditional PDA and it is not as heavy as the notebook. Some organisations such as the Royal Brampton Hospital in London, United Kingdom have already implemented mobile Electronic Medical Records (EMR) solutions using the Tablet PC.


A personal digital assistant is a hand held computer that usually comes in two flavours the Handheld PC and the Palmtop PC.

The handheld PC is similar to a scaled down notebook that is just small enough to fit into one’s hand. Most of the commercially available Handheld PCs run on Microsoft’s Windows CE. It has not achieved the same kind of market penetration, as the Palmtop PC probably mainly due to its small keyboard which makes typing in text awkward.

The Palmtop PC, although smaller that the Handheld PC is relatively more commercially successful. The Palmtop is small enough to fit on to one’s palm and was originally designed as a digital personal organiser but now comes with applications for email, web browsing word processing and spreadsheets.

In terms of operating systems, they are just two major players in the market, Palm, which has a lion share of the market with its operating system Palm OS, and Microsoft with the Pocket PC operating system.

The PDAs produced by Psion were popular in Europe until the company pulled the plug on their production and instead concentrated on licensing its EPOC operating system, now renamed Symbian, to smart phone manufacturers and mobile solution providers.

While PDAs are seen as a valuable information tool, their acceptance within healthcare has been somewhat mixed. Their major drawback, it seems is their small screen size. However that has not stopped them in used for proving solutions in clinical areas such as updating patient information, checking drug interactions, viewing patient history and providing decision support. They are also used in areas such as ordering supplies, patient scheduling and billing.


Useful Links

  • Doctors Gadgets
    Medical PDA Software and Resources .



International Medical Informatics Association
American Medical Informatics Association
UK Health Informatics Society
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

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Last Updated: 10 August 2006.

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