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Dr Mohammed Al-Ubaydli
Cambridge Medical School Graduate and author of the book Handhelds for Doctors (

Moh ammad Al-Ubaydli is a doctor and programmer who uses IT to improve healthcare.

He graduated as a doctor with a first-class degree from Cambridge University. His research project, ImmunoSim, won the Fulton Roberts Immunology Prize that year. This was the first time that a software project received the prize.

Since then, he has continued to combine his medical and computing knowledge. He has worked for several institutions and companies around the UK and the USA. This includes developing the software for Project Palm at Cambridge University, which allowed medical students to share their learning using handhelds. In this project, he also provided teaching, training and technical support to thirty medical students on the best use of their machines.

In 2001, he co-founded Medical Futures, which launched the Medical Futures Innovation Awards. The awards, now a much-anticipated annual event, have greatly raised awareness amongst doctors on the process of using their ideas and inventions to improve healthcare. The event also raises money for UK hospitals.

During his first year of clinical practice, he was still able to lecture and consult on the use of handhelds in medicine. He also co-founded Medical Approaches, which published the world's first peer-reviewed electronic medical text, available for all handheld platforms. In 2003 he wrote "Handheld Computers for Doctors", which immediately gained 4/4 stars from the British Medical Journal and was translated into Spanish in 2004.

He is now a Visiting Research Fellow at the National Centre for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA. He is on the Executive Committees of the UK Heatlh Informatics Society, the Royal Society of Medicine, the Internationl Journal of Surgery and NIH's Biomedical Enabling Sciences and Technologies umbrella group.


Why is your chapter on “Using Information Technology to give you an edge” relevant to today's medical students and junior doctors?

"Within the next few years it will be impossible to do your job as a doctor if you do not have good information technology skills. The government's National Program for IT (NpfIT) will provide electronic medical records in all NHS hospitals and surgeries. These will replace the paper notes, so referring to a patient's previous history, documenting examination findings, requesting investigations and every other task in managing a patient's clinical information will have to be done using the computer. There will be no way out: you must improve your information technology skills.

On the other hand if you improve your skills more than your colleagues do, a world of opportunities becomes available to you. Good typing and word processing skills mean that you produce essays, papers and books faster than your colleagues can. Spreadsheet software skills allow you to analyse and graph your research data. Presentation software skills mean that you can better present your findings at academic meetings and appear a confident professional to your peers. Internet search skills mean that you can find and appraise the latest evidence to provide the best care for your patients.

Patients always came to doctors because doctors had information about diseases and their treatment. As that information multiplies and mushrooms, technology becomes part of the care process, and good doctors will only be so with good information technology skills."

What experience / qualifications do you have in dealing with this particular area of career development?

"The first time I was paid to help medical students with their computer skills was at Project Palm in Cambridge University. I designed handheld computer software that supports the education of 30 medical students on rotations throughout East Anglia. But software is useless if it is not used, so I had to make sure that the students could use the machines, the software that I designed for the machines, and other software that came with the machines. The students showed the full spectrum of IT skills, some of them with a long history of IT phobia.

However it was extremely satisfying to see the results of the training. Students gained confidence with their machines, and began finding extra software that helped them with each medical speciality. They gained control over their medical education, and they learnt faster and more than their colleagues were able to without the handheld computers.

I then started my house jobs, a one year GP rotation. In every department that I worked, I found some jobs that could be improved with a little technology. I chose handheld computers because they were affordable and easy to use, and I taught the clinicians how to use their new tools. As I went around the wards my pager alerted me to new patients I had to clerk, but also to problems that the clinicians had with their machines. Pretty soon I learnt how to give the best teaching first time round so that I was paged less often. Again, it was wonderful to see the transformation, this time with the clinicians, when they gained control over their information needs.

Since then I have continued to teach computer skills in all sorts of ways. I wrote a book called “Handheld Computers for Doctors” which gained widespread and favourable reviews because it taught clinicians to a high standard without demanding much computer literacy from the readers. I regularly write computer articles for the BMJ Careers section, the International Journal of Surgery and other publications to teach clinicians about specific topics. And I lecture around the world, including Stanford University, the US National Institutes of Health, UCL, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Every year, I run the Royal Society of Medicine's workshop on handheld computers, which provides CME points, and the BMJ's Careers Fair IT tutorials. Most recently, I designed a long-distance module on handheld computers, the first in the world to deal with this topic. It also provides CME points and is accredited by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

What follows all these activities is email from doctors and students who are delighted to have improved their information technology skills. Their new-found mastery gives them control over their education, practice, and schedules. And that can only lead to better careers."


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