PDAs Enlisted in War on Terror

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2003-03-24
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is testing a system that uses personal digital assistants to send biological warfare information to health-care workers.

The three-month pilot test of the PDA network is meant to determine the best way for federal officials to communicate with clinicians on the front line in the event of a bioterrorist attack, according to HHS officials in Washington.

The test message will contain a special memo on the most threatening biological diseases and agents, such as anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola. The message also will include links to Web sites that contain further information about diagnosing and treating these conditions. The pilot will determine whether clinicians find it useful to receive such information on a PDA.

"This will literally allow them to have critical information at their fingertips when they need it most," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, in a statement.

The pilot will use software from ePocrates Inc., of San Mateo, Calif., to send information to more than 40 percent of practicing physicians in the United States, HHS officials said.

ePocrates is best known for its Rx Pro drug database software. Participation in the HHS bioterrorism pilot requires that health-care providers have an active version of ePocrates Rx Pro or ePocrates Rx on their PDAs and be currently receiving ePocrates DocAlert messages. The pilot is limited to devices that run the Palm operating system, although ePocrates is planning to release a Pocket PC version of Rx Pro this spring.

The ePocrates pilot project falls under the auspices of the Council on Private Sector Initiatives to Improve the Security, Safety, and Quality of Health Care, which was established in 2002.

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