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HHS To Test Use of Handheld Device Network for Transmitting Urgent Information about Biological Agents to Clinicians

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Press Release Date: March 21, 2003

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced that HHS will begin testing a system using handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) for transmitting urgent information about biological agents to clinicians. The three-month pilot test of the PDA network is designed to gauge the best ways for federal officials to communicate effectively with front-line clinicians in the event of a bioterrorist attack. The project will evaluate how and when clinicians download this urgent information and whether they find it useful to receive it via their PDAs.

"This important new project will allow us to harness the power of technology to communicate with many of the doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who will be called on to diagnose and treat patients quickly in the event of a bioterrorist attack," Secretary Thompson said. "This will literally allow them to have critical information at their fingertips when they need it most."

The project will evaluate the use of a system created by ePocrates, the nation's largest physicians' handheld network, for sending an urgent "Doc Alert" message to more than 700,000 front-line clinicians, including more than 250,000 physicians—more than 40 percent of the practicing physicians in the United States. The test message will contain a special memo on the highest threat (category A) biological diseases/agents, which include anthrax, botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola. The message will also include Web links for clinicians to go to for additional information about diagnosing and treating the conditions caused by the biological agents. Clinicians will be able to save this information to their PDAs for future reference.

The pilot project will be managed by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and is designed to complement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's existing Health Alert Network, which was created in 1998 and is used by the Department to communicate directly with more than 25,000 public health officials in the 50 states, eight U.S. territories and seven large cities.

The ePocrates pilot project is being conducted 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 to ensure that HHS responds systematically and consistently to technological products or ideas proposed by private organizations or individuals that could improve public health/bioterrorism preparedness. This project is the first one to have been accepted and funded through this new initiative. The Council is staffed by AHRQ.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Farah Englert (301) 427-1865 (; Karen Migdail, (301) 427-1855 (


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