Re-Kindle-ing Medical Education

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As I blogged about recently, the launch of the iPod 3G — and in particular the App Store — has contributed to a flurry of medical/health related apps being developed for this platform (see The iPhone Factor).

So, while the success of the iPhone and iPod Touch (aka iTouch) continues to grow in the medical/health arena, another device that has had far less fanfare and a little bit of a rocky start (but now seems to be gaining a fan-base) is the Amazon Kindle eBook Reader.

Image by robertnelson on Flickr

Although the Kindle doesn’t offer a cool touch-screen interface or phone-calling ability, it does have a few of it’s own tricks up it’s sleeve; namely:

  1. It’s always connected via the Sprint “Whispernet” network (bundled into the initial cost of the Kindle)
  2. It’s really catered towards being a book (i.e. display, size, battery-life, etc.)
  3. You can wirelessly sync and download blogs posts for easy reading on-the-go
  4. You can easily use an SD card for extra storage or transferring materials

But if you think the Kindle is just for downloading and reading books from Amazon, think again…

John Halamka (CIO of Harvard Med School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) recently blogged about his implementation of the Kindle at Harvard Med School (HMS), with support for all of their 20,000 edcuational resources. Here’s what he says…

Our integration on the Mycourses educational website enables any Word or PDF document to be delivered to the Kindle wirelessly… Once the user enters their Kindle account into the MyCourses Kindle setup page… any resource which can be sent to the device has a little icon and label “My Kindle” which when clicked sends the resource to the Kindle. It does this by sending the document to the Amazon account via email attachment which then gets converted into Kindles’s specific format and delivered to the device using Sprint’s Whispernet.

As a undergrad and grad science student, I recall the pile of books that we had each year — most of them were around the size of a phonebook and mostly hardcover. Not only was this a huge expense for students (and publishers too), but it was also really tiresome to carry around and made for alot of waste when a new edition was released. I can only imagine that med-students have an even worse pile to deal with.

Here’s more from Halamka on this issue — apparently they spend $50,000 a year on paper alone for printing course documents…

HMS is the first Medical School to offer such a green alternative to all of their compatible resources to be downloaded directly to an eBook… We’re rolling this out by giving a few students free Kindles to pilot the new Mycourses functionality… I’ll report back how it goes. Since we spend $50,000 a year on paper for printing course documents, I hope it is successful!

So, I think it’s pretty cool that Halamka and HMS have instituted the Kindle as a replacement for the traditional science/medical books and course documents. Definitely “Watch This Space” in the future.

BTW, according to BoyGenius, there are rumors ablaze about a new Kindle due this month (OCT 2008). And if you’re interested in this article/device as an educational tool, you should definitely check out Halamka’s post on the use of the iPod Touch in medicine, which he concludes…

Thus, I believe the iPod Touch is a device to watch for clinical and educational applications. I suspect it will be used in many novel ways in healthcare and not just for as a glorified music player.

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