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Patient Care Goes WiFi

Among the most technologically sophisticated of all professions in terms of treatment and diagnosis, the healthcare industry has lagged woefully behind the times when it comes to record-keeping, writing prescriptions, and so on. Most doctors are still tied to antiquated paper charts with handwritten (often scribbled) notes from physicians and nurses. Now that's finally changing, with a number of digitized systems on the market that allow clinics and hospitals to move away from paper-based records.

One of the most intriguing is the Accelerator GHR, for "graphical health record," from an Austin-based company called Catalis. A software application developed to run on a tablet PC and make use of WiFi connectivity, the Accelerator allows MDs to search patient records, take notes during patient visits, display anatomical illustrations, exchange data with other departments including radiology, and write prescriptions, all on the handheld computer. The systems even handles back-office functions like assigning appropriate billing codes, while the patient visit is underway.

The goals of the application, says Dr. Eric Wohl, Catalis' CTO, are to eliminate waste, lower costs, and allow physicians to return to their primary function: treating the sick.

"We are working to restore the traditional practice of medicine," explains Wohl. "Physicians are currently unfocused, because they're constantly worried about costs and about the administrative aspects of healthcare. With Accelerator, a lot of these administrative tasks are carried on in the background, so the doctor can focus on patient care."

Founded in 1999 by Wohl and CEO Dr. Randolph Lipscher -- an emergency medicine physician who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business and who, as a field hockey goalie, competed in the 1984 Olympic Games -- Catalis is funded by a group of private investors as well as by UBS Paine Webber and by Japan's Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA). The company said earlier this week it has signed an agreement with Wayport Inc. to use Wayport's WiFi network technology and support for healthcare facilities' wireless systems supporting the Accelerator application.

Around 100 physicians in Oklahoma and Texas are currently using the Accelerator, the company says, including medical centers at Baylor University and the University of North Texas.

"There's a huge push to move in the direction of digitizing medical records," points out Dan Lowden, vice president of business development and marketing at Wayport. "If you look at Hurricane Katrina, that one storm destroyed an unbelievable amount of paper-based data. If it had been digitally backed up all that information would've been saved."

Feeling that Wayport, which to date has specialized in public WiFi hotspots and in hotel and retail network deployments, can "play a major role" in the transition of healthcare to digital and wireless systems, Wayport has created a medical division to pursue opportunities in the space.

Catalis, meanwhile, has around 100 employees and is marketing the Accelerator system to individual doctors, small clinics, and to major hospitals. The software costs around $10,000 upfront plus a monthly license fee per user, says Wohl. Comparable products on the market, he says, can take weeks of training and are hardly physician-friendly.

The healthcare industry, Wohl adds, "has traditionally resisted these types of products because these systems tended to be cumbersome. With other systems, if you want to find a shoulder problem, for instance, you had to search long lists of text, with drop-down lists of medical findings in that area. With our system the physician is one or two clicks away from finding exactly what they need, simply by clicking on the image of the right shoulder."

The Accelerator also has handwriting recognition, so that physicians can take notes on their tablet computer. And any system that can recognize a doctor's handwriting has got to be revolutionary.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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