Survey: PDAs, handhelds under-utilized for clinical applications

By Caroline Broder
12:00 AM
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Physicians are using personal digital assistants and handhelds for administrative activities rather than for clinical tasks, a new survey of 1,300 doctors found.

For physicians who are using these devices, 80 percent or more use them to maintain an address book or to keep track of their appointments. Less than 10 percent said they used PDAs or handhelds to order medications, access patient records or check lab results.

The survey, from Forrester Research and the American Medical Association, found that only 16 percent of physicians who have handhelds and whose practices have an electronic medical record are using their devices to record patient data. Similarly, only 16 percent of physicians who use handhelds say they use them for electronic prescribing. A report from Spyglass Consulting Group issued early this year also found that physicians were generally unsatisfied with mobile devices. "It's a usability issue," said Forrester analyst Lynne Bishop. Bishop said physicians are often frustrated with the number of screens they have to click through to chart patient information.

The good news is that 57 percent of physicians surveyed are regularly using PDAs or handhelds. Forrester says that's five times more likely than the average population to use the devices. However, female physicians, older doctors, surgeons and those practicing in small offices are less likely to use handheld devices than other physicians. Physicians who practice in a solo office are the least likely to use handhelds or PDAs.

Another bright spot: Among physicians whose practices have the capability to enter prescriptions electronically, nearly 60 percent are using the devices for e-prescribing. In addition, close to 66 percent of physicians with handhelds regularly check medication information, and 28 percent are accessing clinical database information.

The survey was conducted via mail and online from August through December 2004. Physicians were chosen randomly from the AMA's database to participate in the survey, which examined technology adoption among physicians and at medical practices. Forrester plans to release additional results from the survey throughout the year.