By: Greg Schaller, MA, PA-S
Greg is currently a Masters of Physician Assistant student
Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, graduating
May, 2002. He has a previous Masters in Clinical Psychology,
and has been a practicing certified Rolfer (myofascial
release physical therapy) for 14 years. He taught Kinesiology
at College of Health Sciences, Roanoke, Virginia, and
has great interest in electronic medical records, handheld
computers, and wireless technologies. In his spare time,
Greg enjoys hiking, backpacking, reading, and movies.
Below is an abstract delineating my research on
PDA use by Virginia PAs (Physician Assistants). This research
arose in order to complete Masters of Physician Assistant requirements
mandating a research project on any area relevant to the PA profession.
My first research idea was to study the psychosocial health effects
of high school athletic participation, but since gaining high
school permission is almost impossible, I thought: "Why not
research something I tinker with every day
my Palm PDA?"
My physician assistant class began in 2000, just
as PDAs were emerging in public and medicine. It wasn't long after
school started that one student after another, like popcorn popping,
started purchasing PDAs (primarily Handspring Visor). Without
definitive school support, all PDA purchases were non-subsidized.
Most of my classmates characterize their PDAs as "indispensable."
Conversely, PDA use by EVMS PA faculty is minimal. Furthermore,
PDA use by EVMS PA students is strongly discouraged in PA faculty
taught classes. Apparently, the thinking is that PDAs "interfere"
On the other hand, non-PA faculty professors, such as pharmacology
instructors, do use and encourage PDA use.
I own a Palm m505, with additional 64 MB SD memory,
and I use it primarily for date book/address book, and for medical/pharmacological
reference. It is definitely much easier to carry my Palm, than
the equivalent hard copy! I firmly believe in the systems-theory
idea that energy flows toward greater organization. Since PAs
perform physician-type tasks, PA PDA use advantages are the same
as for MDs. In my experience, it is not uncommon for PDA-using
PAs to inspire PDA use by their physician colleagues.
Personal Digital Assistant/Handheld Computer
Usage Patterns of Virginia Physician Assistants
PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants)/handheld computers
have recently entered the medical arena, and are poised to radically
alter the way medicine is practiced. Studies of PDA usage by PAs
(Physician Assistant)s are extremely sparse, but extremely important.
To determine PDA use and usage patterns by Commonwealth
of Virginia PAs.
A survey eliciting PDA use and usage patterns was
developed and mailed to all 349 Virginia Academy of Physician
Assistants members, representing 43 % of the 808 licensed Virginia
PAs. Completed survey results were tabulated using SPSS software,
and subsequently analyzed.
200 of 349 surveys (57.3 %) were completed, representing
24.7 % of all licensed Virginia PAs.
About half (48.5 %) of surveyed Virginia PAs currently
own a PDA, with 19.6 % of non-owners intending to purchase a PDA
in the next 12 months.
Reasons for non-purchase are primarily "cost"
(22 %) and "lack of familiarity" (17 %).
Most PDA owners have Palm OS (operating system)
PDAs (96 %), with most of the PDAs being Palm (51 %) or Handspring
(41.8 %) brand.
59 % of PAs less than 37 years old own PDAs, compared
to 37 % of PAs greater/equal to 37 years old.
50.7 % of males surveyed own PDAs, compared to 45.9
% of females.
76.8 % of surveyed PA students own PDAs, compared
to 38.8 % of working PAs.
While 43.4 % of respondents considered themselves
to be "early adopters" of technology in general, almost
as many non-adopters (42.3 %) as adopters (57.7 %) own PDAs.
Mean self-declared "computer literacy"
of survey respondents was 6.5/10, with only 39.8 % of those of
below mean computer literacy owning PDAs, compared to 56.4 % of
those above mean computer literacy.
Over half (53.5 %) of PAs surveyed have taken computer
classes/workshops, but only 66.4 % of PAs with above average computer
literacy have taken classes/workshops.
A majority (77.4 %) of surveyed PAs expressed an
interest in taking a class/workshop on PDA use/PDA use in medicine.
Top three ranked PDA applications used by survey
PDA ownership by Virginia PAs has attained significant
numbers, with almost one-half of PAs owning PDAs. PDA cost reduction,
and instruction about PDA use, can increase PDA use by PAs. Palm
OS PDAs have market dominance, with Microsoft OS PDAs lagging
far behind. Younger PAs are more likely to own a PDA. Gender difference
in PDA ownership is not significant. PA student PDA ownership
is nearly twice that of working PAs, so when those students graduate,
working PA PDA ownership will sharply increase.
About one-half of PAs are self-declared "early
adopters" of technology, but early adopter status seems unimportant
with regards to PDA ownership. On the other hand, self-defined
"computer literacy," is related to PDA ownership. Above
average computer literacy, however, cannot be exclusively attributed
to computer class/workshop participation. Nevertheless, a large
number of PAs are interested in classes/workshops on PDA use/PDA
use in medicine. PDA applications of great interest to PAs include
drug information, medical references, and personal information
Greg Schaller can be reached by e-mail: