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GM offers handhelds to employees' doctors


January 29, 2001
Web posted at: 3:53 p.m. EST (2053 GMT)

(IDG) -- General Motors and health care vendor Medscape has announced an alliance to promote the use of handheld computing devices among some 5,000 physicians who treat GM employees and their dependents.

GM will fund the three-year program that will distribute handheld computers with Medscape's digital health-record system, Logician. The application provides online reference material, patient records, insurance and billing data. The Detroit automaker hopes the program will reduce medical errors among physicians who treat its employees and cut some of its health care costs.

In a statement, officials at Hillsborough, Ore.-based Medscape said an estimated 900 million prescriptions have to be rechecked each year because of physicians' illegible handwriting. GM also cited a Harvard University study that showed that prescription drug errors fell by half when physicians prescribed drugs electronically, rather than handwriting them. INFOCENTER
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"One way to address the issue of rising costs [of health care] is to improve quality," said GM spokesman Rob Minton. GM spent $4 billion last year to insure 1.2 million employees and dependents covered under its 134 health maintenance organizations, said Minton.

Physicians who access digital health records on mobile devices can quickly access information on drug interactions, as well as a patient's medical history, thereby lowering the risk that they will prescribe the wrong drug, said Minton. In addition, doctors can see whether a patient's health insurer covers a particular drug before prescribing it.

Richard Telesca, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group, said GM's program will likely gain acceptance among health care practitioners. "We're seeing more and more physicians accepting the use of wireless technology," because the devices enable physicians to spend more time with patients and less time retrieving information at their desks, Telesca said.

Using technology to reduce medical errors has been the focus of wide discussion in the health care industry since a report released in December 1999 revealed that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from preventable medical errors [News, December 1999]. The study, issued by the Institute of Medicine, a research arm of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, later prompted President Clinton to order federal agencies that finance or provide health care to take steps to reduce medical errors.

GM is one of the first companies to use wireless technology to reduce medical errors, Telesca said, and other companies will wait to see the results of GM's program before trying anything similar.

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