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Doctors going wireless with souped-up PDAs

Everyone from the President to policymakers to corporate lobbyists are pushing to make all health records electronic. Now, one company is seeing big demand for mobile software that allows doctors to access that information in the palm of their hand.
/ Source: CNBC

Here at the University of Kansas Medical Center, doctors are going wireless.

As policymakers push to digitize medical records, there are already several companies that are one step ahead — cutting the cords to improve healthcare and lower costs.

For doctors Greg Ator and Steven Simpson, making rounds often means walking two to three miles a day. So being tethered to a desktop computer for access to vital information can slow them down, costing precious time and money.

“We had a problem getting results at the point of care,” said Ator.

That problem is now getting treated — thanks to privately-held, Boston-based software firm PatientKeeper.

For the last six years, it's been crafting mobile solutions to treat doctors' information ills. The prescription is software that pumps up PDAs, according to company CEO Paul Brient.

“Whether that's look at lab results, look at test results, do dictation, document a note, write a prescription … we allow physicians to do all of that now on a single device,” he said.

Two months into the rollout at this 350-bed facility, Ator says it is the best physician's tool since the stethoscope.

“When we're making rounds, instead of writing ‘pending’ on the chart you can actually have the results available,” he said. “You can finish the job.”

Created by a bunch of MIT whiz kids, PatientKeeper has raised more than $61 million in venture capital. The goal is to automate “a day in the life” of a physician.

“So they know where their patients are, where it's across multiple hospitals or not,” said Brient. “You can literally click on ‘Mrs. Smith’ and you can view her entire medical record, right there on the PDA.”

But there's only so much you can see or do on a handheld device. PatientKeeper co-founder Stephen Hau says the next generation of the software will allow a PDA to summon information from the more powerful desktop for doctors on the run.

“I take the device and I can actually unlock the kiosk,” he said. “It takes the physician to that piece of information he's looking for. There isn't a lot of steps to get there.”

PatientKeeper's customer base has doubled in each of the last 3 years, with more than 250 hospitals now using the technology. That is just 4 percent of the potential market.

Health care IT revolution
Boosting a health system's bottom line is another major selling point.

“Physicians often forget or don't correctly bill for the services they render,” said Brient. “We can go in and increase revenue by five to twenty percent.”

And it's the potential billions of bottom-line savings that is driving a broader health care IT revolution.

Dr. David Brailer was hand picked by the President Bush to launch the conversion to completely digital medical records over the next decade.

“Health care is the last major industry to do this,” said Brailer. “Nearly every other major industry in America has automated its production process.”

The potential payoff is huge — cutting as much as $300 billion from the nation's annual health care bill.

“Those savings are made of medical errors that are not only grievous to a human being but are incredibly costly to treat,” said Brailer.

The goal is to give physicians more freedom and help them improve patient care while reducing costs. At PatientKeeper, they believe the solution lies no further than the palm of your hand.