These days when I go to a doctor’s office, my health care provider is nearly always using an electronic device – a laptop or handheld computer – in the examination room. Personally, it makes me feel reassured when my doctor is using the latest technology as part of my medical care. But do electronics really make a difference in health care settings?
The evidence says they do, according to a new systematic review published in the online journal BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making. The review identified seven randomized clinical trials of health care providers – involving both doctors and nurses who use handheld computers in their practice.
The reviewers found that the technology was helpful in three distinct areas:
- When health care providers used the devices to access clinical information in real-time, their knowledge improved significantly over peers who used paper resources.
- When they used devices to access clinical guideline recommendations, they made significantly safer decisions in prescribing medicines and treatments and adhered more closely to evidence-based recommendations compared to peers using paper resources.
- When health care providers have access to an electronic clinical decision-making tool, they make more appropriate diagnostic decisions compared to colleagues who did not have access to these tools. The reviewers wrote that these type of tools ” offer clinicians the highest level of synthesized evidence at the point of care.”
The take-home message here: Laptops and hand-held computers certainly have an important role to play in helping medical providers follow the evidence. They can provide the latest information exactly when it’s needed, offer access to evidence-based clinical guidelines and help health care providers make sound diagnostic decisions.
The author of the review did note that more evidence is needed to confirm that medical devices are helping in clinical settings and to measure the clinical outcomes for patients impacted by these devices.