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Fledgling handheld market gets boost from PatientKeeper deal


Technology needs to be applied selectively Since the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's 2000 meeting, the healthcare information industry has been trying to figure out how to fit handheld computing technologies

Technology needs to be applied selectively

Since the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's 2000 meeting, the healthcare information industry has been trying to figure out how to fit handheld computing technologies into the clinical environment. Since physicians were enthusiastically adopting PDAs (personal digital assistants) at a rapid rate as personal organizers, the market entry point was open and waiting for the proper product that fit physician workflow. Results of a codevelopment agreement between Cerner and PatientKeeper may be the drop of water that breaks the dam, allowing information to flow back and forth between PDAs and back-end systems.

Under the agreement, which extends an earlier contract signed by the companies in August 2000, Cerner will standardize handheld offerings for its Millennium products on PatientKeeper's Java- and XML-based Mobilizer platform. In addition, the two companies will codevelop a suite of clinical applications for handheld computers using Cerner's MillenniumObjects toolkit.

"We foresee building applications like prescription orders, placing simple orders," said Gary Pilgrim, channel manager for Cerner. "We have a road map for the applications that will be released, but we're still trying to prioritize which one will come first. And much of the development is based around enhancing the applications that we are already offering."

According to Pilgrim, Cerner is also considering getting into more specialized applications for handhelds, such as those for nurses, or perhaps bundling applications for specialties such as cardiology. What the PatientKeeper Mobilizer brings to the table is the ability to provide enterprisewide applications on a mobile computing device. Since the Mobilizer allows network synchronization (synchronizing the device with the data on the network) rather than desktop synchronization (synchronizing the device with the data on a stand-alone PC), physicians and other clinicians will have access to the information in the Millennium systems.

"The PDA is an extension of the applications," Pilgrim said, "Another way to deliver the information, with physicians being the ultimate mobile consumer."

And since the Mobilizer platform is built to support a variety of handheld devices and transport methods, the physician is not locked into using any particular kind of device or any particular transmission method.

"Our philosophy is that we don't anticipate that the PDA will be the sole information source," said Rick Hall, chief operating officer of PatientKeeper. "The issue is to determine what information is appropriate for the type of device and what is not. Images may be appropriate on the PDA for some types of viewing‹not good enough to diagnose from, but good enough to view.

According to Hall, there is a convergence of three different technologies that will dramatically influence the immediate future of handheld computing in healthcare: Internet browser technologies, wireless networking, and handheld devices. The devices themselves are becoming hybrids of phones, PDAs, Web browsers, and pagers. Then there are other device options such as the tablet computer.

"For nurses, for some physicians, and for some tasks, a tablet may be more appropriate than a PDA," Hall said. "There will be a number of form factors introduced into the market as early as the end of this year, probably something between a tablet and a PDA. But I still believe physicians will go to desktops for certain functions."

One of these will be to read an image, Pilgrim said. But the PDA will alert the radiologist that the image is in, while providing access to other information anytime, anywhere.

"That will be the killer app," he said.

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