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Digital Doctor Helps Reduce Medical Errors

Medical errors account for an alarming number of deaths each year. Health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay has found one doctor who's going high-tech to improve the system.

A doctor's office can be a busy place when it comes to patients and paperwork, and mistakes can occur if a doctor has difficulty keeping track of patients and their medical histories. Now Dr. Lloyd Hey, a spinal surgeon at Duke University Medical Center is using the latest hand-held technology to help prevent errors.

Hey has a busy practice. His frustration with a system bogged down in paperwork and miscommunication inspired him to investigate a better way to do business.

"The system was driving me nuts because it was so inefficient," says Hey. "There's waste, there is a lot of wasted money and a lot of wasted time and I just think we need to improve the system."

His solution was to computerize the day-to-day routine of doctors by developing software called "MD Everywhere." It utilizes the latest hand-held technology to allow doctors to log each encounter with a patient, including diagnoses and prescriptions.

Hey says that the device makes his life easier as a doctor by providing him with one place where he can retrieve all of his patients' information accurately. If he needs to call a patient in a week's time, he can pull up the information on the hand-held device, which saves him a trip to the chart room.

"Very often I can just go to the palm, but it doesn't completely eliminate the whole medical records, so I haven't thrown away all my charts," says Hey.

Hey scans his patients like items at a supermarket checkout to retrieve every detail of their condition, such treatments and medical history. The software is programmed to recognize mistakes every step of the way and sound the alarm if anything is wrong.

"I would like to see us being able to prevent mistakes right here while you're with the patient," says Hey. "If I make a mistake, it actually stops me and can go beep and say don't go there and don't do that because you're about to make an error."

Hey thinks this kind of technology will become more and more common. Doctors have more than a billion patient encounters every year in the US and frankly right now because of their scribble, it's not being accurately captured.

Hey's system is just one of several under development these days. There are also Web sites out there that help you keep track of your medical information and information on a chronic condition, like asthma. Some companies envision the day when doctors, patients and insurance companies can all do business more efficiently using the Internet.

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