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News briefs

From the October 1995 ACP Observer, copyright 1995 by the American College of Physicians.

By Edward Doyle

Computers in health care--more than just billing?

The health care industry still uses computers primarily as a tool to manage financial information, but there are signs that technology is increasingly being adopted as a way to track clinical information.

In a survey of nearly 1,000 health care professionals conducted earlier this year at the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, 44% said that their most important use of computers is accessing and analyzing financial information to manage costs. But another 30% ranked the ability to access clinical information (both text and images) from specialty services as most important.

There were other signs that interest in computerized patient records is growing. About a quarter of the respondents (26%) reported that they have made an investment in computerized records hardware and software; another 10% said they had started, but then suspended, some sort of activity. Another 25% said they have some plans but have not yet made any purchases. Only 6% of the respondents are not planning to computerize patient records.

Another popular technology among those surveyed was telemedicine. More than a third of all respondents (34%) reported they are involved with some type of telemedicine system and another 30% have plans to do so. A third of respondents (33%) said they use the technology primarily for long-distance consults.

Also popular among respondents was multimedia technology, defined as technology that incorporates voice, data and images. More than a third of respondents (35%) said they are currently using multimedia. And while almost half (49%) said they are not using the technology, they noted that they plan to develop the capability within the next two to five years. The most popular use for multimedia technology? Just under half (42%) identified education and training for clinicians as the most promising use of multimedia tools.

CPRI releases two new documents

The Computer-based Patient Record Institute (CPRI) has released two documents exploring computerized records systems.

The Content Coverage of Clinical Classifications is an abstract of a large study that evaluates how well major coding systems help physicians make clinical decisions and how they affect overall delivery of care. Description of the Computer-based Patient Record and Computer-based Computer Patient Record System is a six-page document that explains the concept of computerized record systems and describes the type of infrastructure necessary to support a computerized records system.

Both documents are available from CPRI for the cost of shipping and handling. Information: CPRI, 708-706-6746.

Stanford to hold informatics courses in summer of '96

Stanford University will conduct two introductory courses on informatics in the summer of 1996.

Each course will offer a total of 15 lectures and five hands-on lab sessions. Lecture topics will include ambulatory care records, integrated clinical information systems, patient monitoring and computers in education. Lab sessions will address networking, electronic medical records and bibliographic retrieval.

The cost for attending both labs and lectures is $1,300; the cost for attending lectures alone is $900. Information: Irene Zagazeta, 415-723-6979, fax 415-725-7944,


To mark its 50th birthday, the producers of the Physicians Desk Reference are offering the CD-ROM version of the PDR Electronic Library to physicians at no charge. (The list price is $595.) The Windows-based CD-ROM contains the 50th edition of the PDR, as well as the PDR for nonprescription drugs and ophthalmology. Physicians who want to receive the disc need to pay a $9.95 processing fee. Information: Medical Economics, 800-232-7379.

Embase CD: Geriatrics and Gerontology and Embase CD: Dermatology both contain 10 years of citations and abstracts from 3,500 biomedical and pharmaceutical journals. The material is drawn from the Excerpta Medica database. Each new title costs $995 for a one-year subscription and is being offered on a free 30-day trial basis. Available for DOS, Windows and Macintosh formats. Information: Elsevier Science, 800-457-3633.

Portable devices

SmartCoder, a new product for the Franklin Digital Book, provides diagnostic and procedure codes for medical billing staff. The title contains information from three code books: Current Procedural Terminology (CPT); International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9); and HCPCS, all used for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Cost of SmartCoder is $399; the Digital Book costs around $100. Information: Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc., 609-261-4800.

Patient education software

The United States Pharmacopoeia has released MedCoach, software that allows physicians and pharmacists to create their own drug handouts for patients. The software, which is currently available for PCs (a Macintosh version is due out this fall) provides information on more than 7,500 brand and generic drugs in English and Spanish. Cost: $395. Information: 800-227-8772.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has released PACE: Patient Advise and Consent Encounter, an electronic product that helps physicians inform patients about medical procedures they are about to undergo and other aspects of their health. Patients use PACE by touching a computer screen to get video and graphic information on procedures and medical conditions. The system also tests patients' understanding of the material and provides physicians with a report. Information: 800-762-2264.

Practice management software

Market Image allows subspecialty practices to track physician referrals and attract new referrals by creating mailing lists and generating personalized letters for referring physicians. The software also generates reports on physician profiles that list a practice's top 40 referring physicians and the top referring physicians by specialty. The $6,450 price includes the cost of integrating existing practice software into the system. Information: Main Street Software, 800-548-2256.

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