US Health Dept tests bioterror alerts to doctors' PDAs

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced plans to test a network operated by ePocrates to transmit...

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced plans to test a network operated by ePocrates to transmit bioterrorist health alerts to Palm OS-based handheld computers used by doctors across the country.

HHS secretary Tommy Thompson said that the project "will allow us to harness the power of technology to communicate with many of the doctors, nurses and other clinicians who will be called on to diagnose and treat patients quickly in the event of a bioterrorist attack. This will allow them to have critical information at their fingertips when they need it most." 

The ePocrates pilot project was established last year to ensure that HHS taps into technology products or ideas from private organisations or individuals that could improve public health/bioterrorism preparation. 

A Health Alert Network is already operated within other HHS agencies but HSS private sector council medical director, Dr John Whyte, said the ePocrates system has a potentially wider reach. 

ePocrates has signed up 250,000 doctors nationwide who use the company's handheld computer drug database to help determine the correct prescription and dosage for sick patients.

ePocrates updates that database periodically and also sends out its own "DocAlert" messages on drug safety information from the Food and Drug Administration or topical clinical news, according to Lydia Green, an ePocrates spokeswoman. Doctors would update the information on their PDAs through a "hot sync" synchronisation session, she said. 

ePocrates will help HHS quickly disseminate health alert information on biological diseases/agents such as anthrax, smallpox and plague to doctors and emergency room physicians and internal medicine specialists.

Whyte called the system a "complement" to the existing system. The data files are not yet complete, but he said that if the country experienced a bioterrorism attack, HHS could "immediately" use the system.

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