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Sick of paperwork, doctor develops PAL

News making the technology world buzz

Most doctors in private practice probably would agree with President Clinton's assessment that the medical profession is "drowning in paperwork."

Rather than just tread water, one Missouri physician decided to fight the paper flood with computers.

"It got to the point where I was spending more time outside the examining room looking through charts and records than I was with the patient," said Dr. James Palen, a Cape Girardeau family practitioner. "I realized I was treating records and not people."

Palen and his son Rick, a computer programer, developed a software program called PAL-MED, which they say can help doctors ditch paper charts and records.

The program, now being used by more than 250 doctors nationwide, provides a link between private practitioners and sophisticated communications networks, such as Integrated Medical Systems of Golden, Colo.

Doctors previously could send and receive laboratory reports, X-rays, discharge summaries and referral letters through such networks. Until recently, however, that was where technology stopped and manual labor took over.

The Palens have added the link that sends incoming information directly into patients' electronic files.

Rights to the software recently were purchased by Medical Synergies Corp. of Atlanta, which is marketing the program and has made Palen a vice president.

Pot holes on the "infobahn'

Only two things kept Time Warner Cable's ambitious "full-service network" from being ready to roll out to subscribers in Orlando on time next month:

The hardware and the software.

That may sound glib, but it's a fair description of the delays facing not only Time Warner but the rest of the companies attempting to build the nation's first video-based information highways.

Technical problems are being reported from all quarters. None of the problems are major, or even unanticipated, say the engineers involved. But the glitches will take time to unknot, undoubtedly cooling the public's anticipation of the two-way networks that will let people dial up movies on demand, shop at home and otherwise cavort on the so-called infobahn (that's the latest buzzword for the information highway).

Jim Chiddix, the Time Warner Cable vice president in charge of technology overseeing the Orlando project, said last week that it was a "daring step" to announce, more than a year ago, that the Orlando network would be operational by next month.

"As we got closer to April, it became clear we could cobble something together as a demo," he said, "but that would be a distraction" from doing other work needed to deploy the system to 4,000 subscribers as planned. "So, we decided to flush it."

Some analysts, like Mark Stahlman, president of New York City-based New Media Associates, are skeptical of the whole notion of information highways. In fact, Stahlman says the idea of the "full-service network" planned by Time Warner is not only flawed from a demand perspective _ people like to leave the house to shop forgoods as well as videos, he argues _ it's alsoflawed from a technical standpoint.

IBM's less expensive cousin

RALEIGH, N.C. _ Instead of writing off personal-computer buyers who turn up their noses at IBM, Big Blue is wooing them with a subsidiary designed to deliver cutting-edge technology at a lower price.

Ambra Computer Corp. is the leading computer company's attempt to compete for product-savvy, price-conscious consumers who wouldn't consider buying from IBM, says David Middleton, president of the Raleigh-based subsidiary.

"We surveyed 500 customers who bought Ambra computers in the last quarter of 1993 and 85 percent of them said they were not interested in buying from IBM," Middleton said, noting that a similar finding by General Motors Corp. led to the creation of the automaker's Saturn division.

International Business Machines Corp. established Ambra in August to sell discounted products without eroding the value of its world-famous brand name.

Ambra computers aren't sold in stores. The company advertises in computer magazines and major newspapers.

Short bytes

Apple Computer said last week it will cut prices from 9 to 14 percent on selected models in its PowerBook line of notebook and subnotebook computers . . . IBM said last week it would expand the number of personal computer components it sells as accessories and let others sell them. . . . Delphi Internet Services Corp. said last week that more than 150 Custom Forums, or member clubs, have been established on the Internet.

_ Compiled from Times wires by staff writer Dave Gussow.