The University of Leeds is issuing Apple iPhones to medical students for access to online educational materials that replace ‘unhygienic’ reference manuals and record books.

The 16GB iPhone 3GS smartphones will be loaned to 520 medical students in their fourth and fifth years of study, until they graduate. These students spend most of their time working in local NHS hospitals, GP surgeries and community health clinics, so they will be able to use the iPhones to access their textbooks and assessment modules while out on placements, and also keep in touch with their tutors.

The University of Leeds has been working with online learning solution provider MyKnowledgeMap and digital medical reference provider MedHand to preload the iPhones with a range of relevant apps.

MyKnowledgeMap is creating the apps that students use to add notes to their progress files and to undertake assessments, while Medhand are developing apps that provide digital versions of published medical books, such as the Oxford Handbooks of Clinical Medicine and Clinical Specialties, and the Britsh National Formulary prescribing manual.

Students will also be able to buy or download other relevant medical apps.

All the smartphones will have free, unlimited mobile broadband connection, from network provider O2, to enable students to stay in email contact with their tutors. Wireless networks will also be available at student accommodation sites at Airedale, Calderdale, Huddersfield and Harrogate. However, students will have to pay for phone calls and texts on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The university also said that the iPhones are more hygienic for use in hospital wards.

“The iPhones can be kept clean using antiseptic wipes, unlike notepads, loose leaf folders and textbooks, which could harbour germs, including the so called hospital superbug MRSA,” the university said.

In addition, for data protection reasons, students will not be able to access confidential patient databases from their iPhones, and students will only be able to record details of medical conditions, not names of patiens, on any case notes added to progress files. Furthermore, the university will be able to wipe and disable any phones remotely if they are reported lost or stolen.

“Patient safety has been our primary aim in this development,” said Dr Richard Fuller, director of the University of Leeds MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees) course. “By linking workplace learning and assessment in mobile technology formats, we have a groundbreaking opportunity to provide instant, timely and detailed feedback to students in practice from patients, peers and clinical staff.”

Doctors are increasingly using smartphones for work. It was recently reported that more than three million doctors had downloaded the iStethoscope application, which turns an iPhone into a stethoscope.