Harvard Medical Students Learn and Work through Mobile Solutions

Harvard Medical School (HMS) is one of the world's preeminent institutions in medical education and research. The breadth and depth of its scientific and clinical disciplines are unsurpassed. The Medical School is the largest of Harvard's graduate faculties and has traditionally been a trendsetter for many University-wide initiatives.


The Challenge

HMS third- and fourth-year medical students are highly mobile, moving between the hospital, library, classroom and home. To make the best use of their time at each location, these students need an innovative set of tools. Associate Dean of Harvard Medical School, Dr. John Halamka, envisioned an affordable, flexible and easy to maintain mobile technology solution that would not only improve communication between mobile groups of students and faculty, but also serve as a learning tool to facilitate better medical education.

The Solution

Using AvantGo’s M-Business Server, HMS and its third party integrator, Arcstream solutions deployed MyCourses’, a rich array of applications containing class schedules, hospital case log notes, lecture notes, animated anatomy illustrations, course evaluations, exam calendars and last-minute announcements from administration. The solution, custom developed on top of the award-winning AvantGo M-Business Server platform, leverages HMS’ existing technology infrastructure to provide students and faculty with instant, interactive access to important learning information.

There’s a case to be made that personal digital assistants (PDAs) are going to become as common and as powerful a tool for doctors as the stethoscope. To that point, a recent study conducted by AvantGo that surveyed over 3400 doctors found that 93% of respondents felt that powerful mobile applications

— used to access medical texts, write and transmit prescriptions, and keep records of clinical trials, for example — would enable them to provide improved patient care and make them more productive.

According to Dr. Halamka, the decision to deliver a mobile solution was practical. “About 70% of HMS students already have a PDA, are familiar with using the device, interacting with content on a mobile screen, and populating forms with data. Rather than introduce a new technology, we were able to leverage their existing mobile devices and transform them into a powerful learning tool.”

Students and faculty owned many different devices, including Windows-powered Pocket PCs and Palm OS handhelds. Dr. Halamka notes, “HMS needed a solution that could take advantage of multiple types of devices and information inputs. We chose the AvantGo solution because of its intuitive web-based interface, which was easy to use and required no additional application training on our part and could be used either offline or wirelessly.”

Today, HMS students access and interact with MyCourses applications on their mobile device through synchronization with their desktop computer, or wirelessly through their device infrared port and 802.11b connections. Wireless connections are set up around campus on hospital teaching floors, the medical school library and class areas.

As part of the MyCourses application, HMS has replaced its paper-based survey process, which has saved time and money in addition to improving communications between faculty and students. Now, PDAs are used to complete and submit the nearly 300 surveys and evaluations per person, per year that previously amounted to an enormous paper chase.

In less than six months, the mobile automated process has saved HMS over $150,000 in paper survey costs and is on track to easily pay for itself within its first year in deployment. Additionally, HMS has been able to improve transcription errors that were caused by incorrect manual entry and eliminate the costs associated with some full-time data entry positions. Survey feedback compliance has gone from 20% returned up to six weeks after course completion to 80% returned in near real-time.

HMS students are also using their handheld devices to log case notes on patient rounds, check class schedules, and study animated anatomy illustrations, for example. By regularly synchronizing their device, they receive up-to-date patient data or may learn that a test has been postponed, or a class cancelled.

The HMS mobile solution links several Harvard Oracle-based databases and MyCourses to the AvantGo M-Business Server. Central administration and security are key features of the AvantGo solution, enabling HMS IT administrators to regularly update content with the assurance that confidential information will pass safely over the network. With this system administrators can also roll out new applications cost effectively and without interruption to either students or faculty.

“Medical students, especially those in their third and fourth years, are by their very nature mobile, moving from hospital to hospital to see patients. MyCourses is a set of AvantGo-enabled mobile applications that can keep them on track and enable them to focus on learning, wherever is most comfortable and convenient for them,” says Dr. Halamka.


Strong ROI

HMS was able to achieve a return on investment of 60% within the first six months, and the project is on track to pay for itself in less than one year.

Wireless and off-line use

Students can move from hospital to hospital and still access the most up-to-date information either through an 802.11b connection or in offline mode.

Secures sensitive data

Robust security features, including encryp-tion and username/password authentication, are already built into the AvantGo solution, assuring that the solution is HIPPA compliant and confidential material remains secure.

Improves learning

The AvantGo mobile solution enables medical students to remain focused on learning, while having immediate access to the right resources.


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