Doctors turn to PDAs

TV doctors may fly by the seat of their pants, but in the real world, MDs increasingly rely on handhelds  

I don't usually watch ER-type TV shows, but I've lately been intrigued by the latest ABC hit, Grey's Anatomy. If you've seen it, then you know that the whole staff of Seattle Grace Hospital is young, has lots of sex, and hardly ever sleeps. But have you noticed that they don't spend much time at computers either?

In fact, the cast makes it look like IT hasn't made any progress in health care at all. The doctors stride into a room knowing all the diseases and treatments from memory and almost never refer to a PDA or other electronic device.

How does this square with doctors' attitudes and behaviors in the real world? A new Forrester Research survey of 1,300 doctors reports that four out of five doctors say technology "makes life easier." Although consumers as a whole are split evenly between technology optimists and pessimists, among doctors there are four technology optimists for every pessimist. And more than 70 percent of doctors said they think electronic medical records systems will help them provide better patient care and run more efficient practices.

According to the survey, doctors use IT systems constantly -- for evaluating treatment options, supporting diagnoses, getting lab results and medical records, and a host of other crucial tasks. So what gives? If doctors are so keen on IT, why do they have the reputation for being the most notorious, heels-dug-in Luddites? And why do we continue to portray them on TV as unplugged heroes -- have scalpel, will travel?

Two words: knowledge worker. "If egos were gravity," one health-care CIO recently said, "this hospital would be the largest black hole in the universe." Like consultants, accountants, lawyers, and even computer programmers, doctors are the top of the food chain of educated, can-do humanoids. Even in real life, they'll use IT systems, but the idea of letting someone else control those systems -- or of giving those systems much credit for their individual virtuoso performances -- is a nonstarter.

So if you're an IT worker in the health-care sector, be proud you're helping to save lives but don't expect to ever have a sexy TV show.

Attention IT shoppers: IDC is predicting that you will be opening your wallets for a very merry IT Christmas. "It looks like the two-month outage in our indicator of buyer intent has been repaired," said John Gantz, IDC's chief research officer. "Buyers have realized that the economy is still trundling right along, and that for companies to take advantage of this economic growth, they will need to invest in IT to grow the business." Thanks for letting us know, John, and happy holidays to you, too!