The jammed exhibit hall stretched three-fourths of a mile and more than 700 exhibitors hawked their wares at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting in the Dallas Convention Center. Clinical information technology was again the hottest category at the Feb. 13-17 show. A couple of products seemed pretty slick to me, although only time will tell how they perform in the market.
One Hewlett-Packard Co. product made use of a digital pen and special paper in a system that company officials hope will serve as a bridge between paper and electronic data entry. The paper looks like a standard encounter form, except for a pattern of colored dots under the blanks and check boxes. The digital pen, which costs about $200, writes just like a regular pen but also contains a scanner that records the dot pattern and the writing on the form. The software costs about 25 cents to 30 cents per form.
The information is transferred to an electronic medical record -- and the data deposited in searchable fields -- whenever the pen is placed in its computer-linked docking station. The dot pattern on the paper identifies each record as unique. Upwards of 24 million patterns are available, says Eric Chaniot, a Hewlett-Packard vice president in charge of the product.
Chaniot says the system is in use in emergency rooms, admission departments and clinical research programs at 40 hospitals in Europe.
In the U.S., the system is being tested at a surgical practice, says Joey Terrazas, president of Healthcare Intelligence, based in Austin, Texas, a value-added reseller. The company will provide data storage and technical service for the Web-based application in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, Terrazas says.
Another interesting product, a Web-based, physician decision-support tool called Isabel, was being pitched by U.K.-based Isabel Healthcare. The company and the software is named after the daughter of company co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jason Maude. When his daughter Isabel was 3, she nearly died after being misdiagnosed by a physician-in-training at a British hospital.
Maude and his wife, Charlotte, didn't sue. Instead, they created a not-for-profit foundation and pumped their own money into research and development of a software system to act as a backup diagnostic tool for physicians. Joseph Britto, M.D., a London pediatrician who helped save Isabel's life after the misdiagnosis, worked with the Maudes to develop the logic behind the software. Britto is the company's medical director.
A pediatric version of the software was introduced at the 2004 HIMSS show. The company returned this year with additional modules for geriatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecol-ogy, oncology, surgery and toxicology. Isabel also now has a venture capital partner, and ownership of the company is split 50-50 between the foundation and the financial backers.
I found a couple of features of the software particularly intriguing. In one, the clinician would enter a patient's symptoms and then select from a pulldown menu locations the patient recently lived in or traveled to. The software would generate suggested diagnoses based on symptoms and diseases endemic to those areas.
Another feature of the software generates a list of drugs that could cause adverse reactions similar to the symptoms described.
Several U.S. hospitals are using the pediatric software, Maude says, and at least one medical-records developer is talking about linking Isabel to its electronic medical record. Stanley Fisch, M.D., a pediatrician at six-physician Harlingen (Texas) Pediatrics, subscribed to the online service last summer. He uses the software about once per week for "puzzler" cases; medical students and residents also use the software.
Fisch says he likes the geographic variability feature. "We found when we put in Central America, the diseases better match what we find down here," he says. Fisch, former chief of staff at 396-bed Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen, says the hospital is using the system in its ER, pediatric units and newborn ICU.
"It's designed to be a memory jogger," he says. "It presents a list of things that ought not to be overlooked. It's not an attempt to make the diagnosis for you. It's a service that makes sure you do not overlook some of the diagnoses that may be rare but may be important to your patient."