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HealthFile Plus

Wed Dec 20, 2006 - 10:07 AM EST - By Jay Gross


The emergency room doctor took out his pen and the questions started. When was your last tetanus shot? Well, lets see, that’d have to go back to my bicycle accident, or no, maybe the car crash, but both of those were back in dinosaur days.

Any history of (fill in fifty scary diseases) in your family? And what medications do you take regularly? Which physician prescribed the blood pressure pills? On and on it went. I wasn’t prepared, really, and had to think hard to come up with only approximate dates. I’ve always been bad with names so I’d have to consult the Yellow Pages to come up with some of the information. As for a medication list, I managed to avoid Organic Chemistry 101 at the university way back when, and pills with more than three syllables in their names are beyond the reach of my brain. My blood pressure pills are totally unspellable, anyway.

Ah, but now I’m ready. Though I hope I’m done with emergency rooms and physicians and hospitals for a long time, I’ve recorded all that information and more, using a neat little program called HealthFile that lives in my Treo 700p, with a cool interface that lives in my laptop computer. I expect it to be a great time saver, and a definitive reference during my continuing care, and should simplify the process of breaking in a new physician or (knock on wood) visiting a hospital.


HealthFile Plus is available for Windows (Pocket PC) Treos, but I opted to install the Palm OS version. I keep my 700p near my heart – namely in my shirt pocket – and leave my 700w to hold down the desk at home.

It’s really a relational database with a purpose: medical information. You start by creating a profile – that’s you or someone in your family group – and entering the basic information. You can have multiple profiles – large family, I suppose – so many that you might need the “search” option at the bottom of the screen to locate the one you need. For each profile, the program maintains a complete set of separate information, but the profiles can share things like lists of health care providers, clinics, and insurance companies.

The program doesn’t offer to gather any of this data from the Treo’s Contacts database. However, it’s no biggie to retype, since you can do the data entry on a computer instead of wearing calluses on your thumbs using the Treo keyboard. The program comes with a companion that runs in your non-Treo computer. Besides, the HealthFile information goes far beyond what Treo Contacts contains. In addition, it offers a nice on-screen keyboard if you’d rather tap-tap-tap your verbiage.

Unfortunately, its pull down menus offer the on-screen keyboard in inappropriate places, and you get only a beep instead of the keyboard. Indeed, the program does a rather poor job of its user interface, for the most part. The always-present menu structure is seldom entirely applicable to the screen you’re in. The menus should be more contextual.

Speaking of context, HealthFile Plus doesn’t know enough to put the keyboard into numeric entry mode when you’re in a phone number field. I’ve come to expect the friendliness of my Treos, capitalizing first letters where such would be warranted (which HealthFile Plus does honor) and invoking number mode – which otherwise requires two button pushes – in fields where numeric entry is most likely. To be sure, a phone number might not necessarily be all numeric – “Extension 333,” for example – but most of them will. Better to turn numbers on, in the hope of saving key presses. And time.

Okay, list time. The program keeps track of:

  • Personal information for yourself and anyone else you want. Each is kept in a separate “profile,” and they all share the list of providers. So, if your ophthalmologist (in the default list as “vision”) also works on your children, you only have to enter the information once.
  • Legal. This is a list of documents you might have that express your desires about how your health care and information about it are managed, even if you’re not able to do so yourself. These include your will, which I suppose you could type into the Treo screen, but how legally binding is that? Also your living will and your wishes regarding life support and resuscitation. There’s a pulldown menu for organ donorship, and another one for next of kin. If you’ve put kinfolks into the program’s “contacts” page (not to be confused with the Treo’s own Contacts app), they’ll appear in the pulldown selector in the Legal panel. Sweet.
  • Insurance. Even before the ambulance drivers ask how you feel, they ask for your insurance information. Same with emergency rooms, hospital admission desks, clinics, and physicians. Medicine is a business ruled by insurance companies. Your family’s multiple insurance providers’ policy numbers, agent and contact information can be stored conveniently in HealthFile Plus’ insurance panel, retrievable on cue to satisfy the health providers. The program supports many kinds of insurance, including automobile, or you can choose “other.” The list of insurance types is not editable.
  • Contacts. Not to be confused with the Treo’s Contacts app, HealthFile’s list doesn’t interface with it, either. The phone numbers you enter in this section are not dialable by tapping, though you can select them, copy, and paste into the Phone app. Two demerits for unfriendly non-support of the Treo’s niceties.
  • Allergies. I’m happy to report that I have no reason at all to test this one with real data. However, I have friends who’re allergic to almost everything. Except allergies. This is extremely important information to supply to your health care providers. Errors can be deadly.
  • Illnesses. The older you get the longer this list is likely to be. I’ve been lucky and don’t have much to report. What you’ve had in the past, however, affects the treatment and tests your physicians might plan.
  • Surgeries. This, too, is an important consideration in a physician’s treatment plan.
  • Appointments. This one is fairly useless since it doesn’t interface with the Treo’s Calendar app, but it does have the small advantage of supplying physicians’ names in a dropdown menu. More complete information – address, phone numbers, etc. – are available with a couple of taps. I’d rather store these dates in Calendar, where my other appointments are also available.
  • Medications. Sounds simple, but this is one of the most important lists you can supply to your health care providers, especially if you have to take an ever-changing “kit” of pills for various conditions. For example, I treat my high blood pressure with two pills twice a day. Thanks to HealthFile and my handy Treo, I was able to tick off those drugs’ sesquipedalian names and current dosages for my cardiologist without spelling anything wrong. Alas, the program has no option to beam or otherwise share its information, though you can get printouts and graphs from the PC-bound sister program.
  • Vaccinations. That tetanus one I couldn’t remember? Perfect example.
  • Tests. This is one for the hypochondriacs among us, mostly, since patients aren’t necessarily privy to the results of medical tests.
  • Blood Pressure. Nice to keep this in a cozy electronic format, especially if, like me, you’re trying to control it.
  • Weight. Only the slimmest among us need any explanation on this one.
  • Glucose. Us diabetics welcome this one. I’m newly diagnosed, so it’s particularly useful to have a roster when I visit the clinic, so I can whine about the pills not working.
  • Cholesterol. Get your family doc to explain this one, or just watch the commercials on TV for a couple of hours. And take notes.
  • Family History. Many medical conditions are hereditary, so if your family’s predisposed to something, you might be doomed to get it. Here’s one that could save you lots of time and head-scratching while the physician taps pencil on clipboard. HealthFile Plus’ desk-bound component lets you print out lists and neat-looking graphs, so invest in some reams of paper (if you have a large family) and take the information along when you visit the doctor.

    In all this, accessible where appropriate, the program provides a convenient way to store names, phone numbers and other information about your medical service providers, including office hours, email addresses, and physical addresses. There’s even a space for custom notes.

    Other information

    HealthFile Plus organizes your information into convenient categories, which are interlinked – see the long list above - so you can view (or edit) a provider’s office hours when checking on an appointment. The best part is that you have to enter the data only once, and when a provider’s office is registered you can assign treatments to him or her using dropdown menus. The program offers choices of some basic specialties – General Practice, OB/GYN, and Dental, for example. I had to add Orthopedic Surgeon and Dermatology.

    There are people who sail through life sufficiently well organized to have no need of HealthFile Plus to keep up with all this. You know the ones. Don’t you hate ‘em?


    It doesn’t bother me much that people know my medical history, so I mostly laughed off the constant barrage of consent forms the hospital trotted out. I can understand, however, if people feel otherwise. Your information is your information, so storing it in a handheld computer isn’t the most secure plan in the world, anyway. To help out, HealthFile Plus offers password protection for the data.

    The program, which has to live in internal memory on the Treo, stores its databases in a non-humanly readable form. They’re probably none too secure from serious geeks, but the casual snoop won’t be able to get the information without access to the program. If your Treo has to change hands, don’t forget to obliterate all information with a hard reset. Any other method leaves recoverable data behind.

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