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Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) clinical documentation System: A Pilot Study For Radiation Sciences Program

M. Ferell Justice
Department of Radiation Sciences
School of Allied Health Professions



Radiation Science education is a mixture of classroom and competency based education.  Competencies in all the modalities are mandated by The American Registry of Radiologic Technology (ARRT).  The tracking method of the large list of competencies required by the ARRT for each student has been left up to educational faculty.  Students and faculty often use a paper based system to record clinical experience and competencies.  Technology utilization has exploded in educational and hospital settings.  As a result the natural progression towards paperless technology is being addressed by many health education professions, including medicine and nursing (Kho et al, 2006).  The use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) in nursing education and medical education have had some common applications that has been investigated (Lu et al, 2004, Rao, 2002, Briscoe et al, 2006,  Nierenberg et al, 2007, Garret & Jackson 2006,).

Nurses have also used paper based portfolios to track their clinical experiences.  Garret and Jackson (2006) discussed several learning outcomes that they evaluated with the use of PDAs in nursing and medical education.  These learning outcomes included nursing/medical content knowledge, therapeutic intervention experienced, communication and proficiency, and critical thinking skills (Garret & Jackson, 2006). 

Nierenberg and associates at the Dartmouth Medical School reported on clinical statistics such as the total number of student-patient encounters, number of encounters with feedback, average usefulness of the feedback given, and number of patients who declined student involvement with the use of PDAs.  Tracking reports were generated by the student and/or the faculty.  The purpose of the reports in their study was to allow the students and the educators to review student progression towards learning targets and clinical skills (Nierenberg et al, 2007).  This study also set seven goals while implementing wireless technology into their clinical education system.  The goals of wireless technology implementation were: easy customization for use in all clinical areas, tracking student experiences and competencies, having a system that is student friendly, providing value to educators, creating an easily accessible system to facilitate data entry and report generation, helping students and faculty understand their new competency based model of education, and to potentially help address future research and other applications (Nierenberg  et al., 2007,). 

Garret and Jackson and Nierenberg, et al., all measured the outcomes of their studies with the use of survey questionnaires and generated reports from the PDA systems they used.  They mutually found that it was important to measure the PDA users perceptions of their experience with the wireless technology (Garret & Jackson, 2006, Nierenberg et al., 2007).   Both studies show that students and faculty found the use of PDAs to enhance their ability to track clinical experiences and outcomes of clinical competencies.  The PDA system was also a benefit to the students that were in clinical rotations in remote locations.  Students perceived that they felt less isolated from faculty and other students (Garret & Jackson, 2006, Nierenberg et al., 2007).  

There were areas of concern in both studies.  Users often needed repeat training in the use of the PDAs and its software.  Students and clinical faculty felt that learning the new system and software was not fully achievable with increased clinical workloads.  There was also difficulty in setting up the students’ wireless technology systems with the existing systems in the clinical facilities that they rotated.  The final hurdle for both was the cost of implementation (Garret & Jackson, 2006, p. 648, Nierenberg et al., 2007).  

Measuring training time, user perceptions of the ease of use, and how the users view the PDA as a learning tool are areas needing continued research.  Implementing wireless technology into the clinical education in radiation sciences may allow educators and students to track their educational progression. It may also give insight into the learning environments in which the students gain their clinical education. Instructing students, faculty, and clinical staff the proper use of the PDA system and software may increase its acceptances in the clinical sites.


The proposed study will attempt to answer the following questions in order to contribute to the knowledge about future usage of PDAs in the clinical education of radiation sciences students:

  1. What are mean levels of satisfaction of the PDA system from the faculty, clinical staff, and student perspectives?
  2. Is there a difference in the mean levels of satisfaction between faculty, clinical staff, and student perspectives?
  3. Is there a difference in the magnitude of usage satisfaction with the PDA system and the paper-based system?
  4. What learning outcomes are influenced by the value of the PDA system from the faculty/instructor and student perspectives?

Activities To Date

The following activities have been completed to date:

  1. All hardware and software has been purchased for this project.
  2. Sample has been established.
  3. IRB approval met: IRB number is HM 12234.
  4. Pre test has been developed and administered.
  5. Orientation manual has been developed and instructions provided to participants.
  6. Form conversion has been developed on the PDAs.
  7. Data collection has started.

Future Plans

The following activities will be completed by the end of the fall 2009 semester:

  1. Data collection completed.
  2. Data analysis completed.
  3. Final report submitted to CTE.

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