Handheld vs. Laptop Computers for Electronic Data Collection in Clinical Research: A Crossover Randomized Trial

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Executive Summary

In clinical research, huge amount of data is collected, stored and processed. With the advancement in technology, the paper bulk is replaced by electronic data collection, which can easily be accessed and processed at any point of time. Electronic data is superior in terms of quality and consistency, because of the use of automated validation process and data range checks. With a new technology coming up almost every second, the advances in hardware and software enable one to collect electronic data in smaller portable devices such as laptops and handheld computers. With randomized trials using 160 various paper based questionnaires, representing 45,440 variables, this paper compares handheld and laptop computers in terms of users' speed, number of entry errors and satisfaction in using these two devices for data collection in clinical research. Handheld devices like Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) and Smartphones have easy touch inputs on display screen or miniature keyboards, which make them well accepted in the clinical and academic world. However, some authors believe that handheld computers lead to poor data quality due to the small screen size and the peculiar text entries on the keyboards, which makes the data entry slower and more susceptible to errors than other electronic data collection tools such as desktop or laptop computers. Laptops are becoming a strong substitute for handheld computers with their increasing affordability and handiness. With laptops data can be transferred quickly and efficiently using the wireless network facilities. Considering all these arguments, an appropriate comparison of both, handheld computers and laptops is essential.

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