NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Software To Improve Medical Practice

September 21, 1999

Some 200 physicians are now testing a new software program called InfoRetriever (IR), which is compact enough to run on a palmtop PC and has the potential to transform the practice of medicine, says Newsweek.

  • Studies have shown repeatedly that doctors pay less attention to research findings than to colleagues and drug-company representatives -- leading to radically different treatments for patients with identical conditions, depending on the clinic they visit.
  • Since the 1970s, medical reformers have struggled to promote a more consistent, "evidence-based" model of care, but managing the relevant data has proved a daunting challenge.
  • Today, only one physician in four even uses a computer at work.

The IR software grew out of a project Mark Ebell launched from Michigan State University in 1994: a summary of clinically important findings in the Journal of Family Practice and reviews and treatment recommendations in a monthly newsletter called Evidence-Based Practice.

  • Unlike Medline, a medical database that includes 11 million articles, IR is focused on patient care.
  • And unlike the Physicians' Desk Reference, the standard prescription drug guide, it includes well-documented off- label uses of prescription drugs.
  • IR quantifies the advantages of different treatment strategies, calculates drug dosages, clarifies test results and summarizes current research findings on many topics.
  • Users will be able to update the program quarterly through Internet downloads.

Several university health systems now plan to adopt the program, but no one is marketing it directly to individual practitioners -- yet.

Source: Geoffrey Cowley and Anne Underwood, "Finding the Right Rx," Newsweek, September 20, 1999.


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