Doctors Using Handhelds, But Not for Medicine

U.S. physicians are five times as likely as general consumers to use handheld computers, but less than a third of physicians who have mobile electronic medical records actually use them. That’s the conclusion of a new report by Forrester Research that surveyed 1,331 physicians.

Fifty-seven percent of surveyed doctors reported using some sort of handheld computer, such as a PDA or tablet PC. Doctors were less likely to use such devices if they were women (53 percent of the female physicians used them), older (45 percent of physicians older than 40 used them), surgeons (54 percent used them compared with 71 percent of general-practice physicians), or employed at small practices (39 percent of physicians at solo practices used them, compared with 63 percent of physicians at large practices).

Medical residents formed the group most fond of their gadgets, with 73 percent reporting that they use a handheld computer or PDA regularly.

Keeping track of contacts and appointments were by far the top uses of the handheld devices. However, 65 percent of physicians using PDAs did use the device to check medications. Between 5 percent and 7 percent used the handhelds to order medications, check lab results or access patient records.

Click here to read more about the digitization of patients’ medical records.

The majority of physicians with handheld computers said their medical practice did not have means to chart and record clinical details or enter patient prescriptions directly into an electronic system.

The report concluded that while the devices themselves have been improving, the software controlling the interface between clinician and machine hasn’t been keeping up.

“Hardware improvements in battery life, screen resolution and connectivity won’t be enough to convince handheld-enabled physicians to view their devices as critical clinical tools—especially if they must wrestle with clunky EMR (electronic medical records) applications that make data input and extraction a complex, time-consuming process of clicking through multiple screens.”

But the survey also offered encouragement for vendors hoping to see more physicians using their products when caring for patients. If a medical practice did support electronic prescribing, nearly three-fifths of the physicians used their handhelds to do so. These rates were much lower for recording clinical information. Of the 46 percent of clinicians reporting having this capability, nearly two out of three opted not to do so.

The report also found that health care organizations were more willing than other businesses to invest in wireless services and applications to allow the devices to go online. Twenty-six percent of physicians with gadgets used them to get online, and 12 percent used them to send or receive e-mail.

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