NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Medical Promises Of Hand Held Computers

January 11, 2001

Thousands of physicians are getting professional assistance from hand-held computers popularized by Palm and other makers. Observers say that utilizing the new technology will soon spread like a wave throughout the medical professions.

Currently, the digital assistants are used for reference, writing prescriptions and keeping track of billing data. By referring to them, doctors can reduce mistakes -- such as prescribing conflicting medications -- and avoid thousands of deaths each year.

  • Enthusiasts predict that eventually incorporating hand-held computers into wired or wireless networks could yield enormous cost savings for doctors, health plans and insurers by reducing paperwork and delays.
  • That's because more than three out of 10 of the three billion prescriptions written each year have to be rechecked -- due to the doctor's handwriting or insurance rules.
  • Industry data indicate that 20 percent of American physicians already carry the hand-held devices -- although not necessarily for medical purposes.
  • At least 50 companies, mostly startups, are exploring medical applications for the hand-held computers.

But experts point out that the market cannot sustain 50 separate companies and a shake-out will be inevitable. Also, various new systems must somehow be integrated with existing systems.

Source: Milt Freudenheim, "Digital Doctoring," New York Times, January 8, 2001.


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