Dr. Richard W. Freedman has invented a software program that allows computers to analyze and process information, then write about it in coherent, perfectly spelled English.
Lest newspaper editors get rash ideas about replacing reporters, the application of Dr. Freedman's brainchild is limited to the practice of medicine. The program, called Clinical Patient Manager, is designed to work on IBM-compatible 286 and 386 personal computers.
What CPM does is record a patient's medical history and, based on that information, grind out the tons of correspondence doctors must send to insurance companies, health-care providers, other physicians and lawyers every year, Dr. Freedman said.
What CPM doesn't do is try to supplant doctors and their expertise with coldly efficient computer programs, circuit boards and microchips, he added.
"We don't do that because of the legal implications of malpractice," he said. "We are not practicing medicine." Nor does CPM schedule operating room time or send out dunning letters to financially delinquent patients.
An animated man with a dry, offbeat sense of humor, Dr. Freedman proudly put his invention through its paces inside his cramped office at the University of Maryland Baltimore County office.
The program produces simple directions for guiding a physician, or an assistant, through a thorough patient history.
The computer generates drawings of a human body, with the areas where patients report maladies color-coded to highlight them.
But most impressive is CPM's ability to generate well-written letters -- with detailed descriptions of patient history, complaints, the dates of previous visits and treatments and their results.
Dr. Freedman and Dr. John B. Posey, a neurosurgeon who assisted in developing CPM, think they've hit upon something with an attractive financial potential. Their program comes in two permutations: one for neurological surgeons and one for orthopedic surgeons.
"We are in the process of doing the knowledge engineering in other medical disciplines," Dr. Freedman said. "We are finding out what information a doctor needs to know in order to make decisions."
He and Dr. Posey have formed Medical Information Systems Inc., which is based in one of Dr. Posey's Baltimore offices. Since introducing their product in April, they have sold several copies of CPM, which costs $6,000 per program.
"There's been a lot of focus on increasing business and office management efficiencies in medical practices," Dr. Posey said. "But until now, there have been few significant advances in the way physicians gather, organize and store clinical patient data. CPM represents a new and exciting technological breakthrough that will eliminate many hours of tedious work for physician and secretary alike."