U Epidemiologist to Study How Utah's Rural Docs Can Benefit From Using Wireless Technology

U Epidemiologist to Study How Utah's Rural Docs Can Benefit From Using Wireless Technology

Oct 28, 2004 6:00 PM

A University of Utah epidemiologist will use a $1.5 million Department of Health and Human Services grant for a randomized trial to see how Utah's rural doctors can benefit from using wireless electronic technology in their medical practices.

The three-year Health Information Technology Grant will allow Matthew H. Samore, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the U of U School of Medicine and principal investigator, to give doctors a Web-based electronic order entry tool for use on personal digital assistants (PDA) and desktop computers.

The PDAs will allow physicians to electronically enter prescription orders, lab work, radiology tests, and other information. With a few clicks, new prescriptions and refills can be generated and electronically faxed to pharmacies using wireless technology. The system also will give physicians access to medical databases to support their decisions ranging from prescribing medication for respiratory infections to administering flu vaccines.

"We have found that physicians in rural areas are very receptive to this kind of technology," said Samore, chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology at the U medical school. "Information technology can help doctors be more efficient and also deliver what we hope is improved care."

Along with saving time with prescriptions, electronic technology reduces errors caused by illegible handwriting. It also allows doctors who share patients to access information that can assist them in making medical decisions. Ultimately, electronic medical technology can save the entire health system money by making doctors more efficient in practicing medicine, according to Samore.

Samore plans to recruit 20 primary care clinics, with two to five physicians in each, in geographically separate rural areas. Ten of the clinics will receive PDAs. Samore will evaluate the impact of the PDAs on the practices of those physicians compared with those who don't initially receive the technology. The 10 clinics without PDAs will get them 12 months into the trial.

"This is a low-cost technology," Samore said. "It can make the biggest difference in places that don't already have as much electronic medical technology."

The HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued the grant after seeking proposals to evaluate the value of health information technology. The agency places a priority on helping rural areas, according to Samore. The University of Utah project is one of 25, among 190 applicants, funded.

HealthInsight, an organization dedicated to quality improvement in medical care in Utah and Nevada, and CaduRx, a Utah company that provides drug prescription management, are partners in the trial. The study's co-principal investigator and key clinical architect of the tool is Kim Bateman, M.D., a rural primary care physician, adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and associate medical director at HealthInsight.

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