Handhelds: 70 percent of doctors will use smartphones by 2011

March 14, 2008

A predicted rise in smartphone ownership by physicians helps explains why medical software for handhelds is increasingly Web-based.

A predicted rise in smartphone ownership by physicians helps explains why medical software for handhelds is increasingly Web-based, a trend discussed in our story “The best programs for your handheld” in the March 7, 2008 issue of Medical Economics.

A consulting firm called The Diffusion Group predicts that the percentage of doctors using a smartphone will increase from an estimated 49 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2011. A smartphone, as defined by The Diffusion Group and others, is a handheld device combining e-mail, Internet access, telephony, and computing tools associated with a personal digital assistant, or PDA.

A Web browser makes the smartphone all the more valuable as medical software makers begin to move from “native” programs installed on a handheld or mobile computer to programs accessed online. One example is eRx NOW, a browser-based program for e-prescribing that Allscripts introduced last year. While Allscripts still offers doctors a native e-prescribing program called TouchScript, it considers eRx NOW the wave of the future.

The study from The Diffusion Group doesn’t mention the iPhone, but Apple’s hot smartphone is a big reason why doctors are switching to this new technology. The device’s ease of use is key. The iPhone screen is bigger than what you find on most other smartphones and traditional PDAs, and you can get a wider view of a Web page when you rotate the device-the view rotates with it. Using two fingers on the touch screen, you can shrink or blow up the screen content to the size you want.

All these features make it easier to use medical software designed for handhelds. It’s also a whiz reading a summary page in a patient’s electronic chart that you access from home at 1 a.m. when the emergency department calls. Granted, you may not want to rely on such a small device for entering lots of medical data, but for viewing data, a smartphone could be your mobile medical file room.

While the smartphone’s strong suit is Internet connectivity, the demand for native programs on handhelds is still strong. Earlier this month, Apple announced that it was sharing the next version of its iPhone operating system with software developers so they can create native versions of their programs for the Apple device. One software firm planning to do this is Epocrates, maker of the immensely popular drug reference program. Epocrates also offers a Web-based version of its software.

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