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Abstract

In recent years, computer use has pervaded almost every aspect of the practice of medicine. Although computers have been in use in psychiatry since the early 1950s, it was the last decade that has witnessed the greatest growth. While computers cannot replace the careful attention and compassion of human contact, they can perform standardized operations much faster and more accurately. The current interest in computer use is associated with two phenomena: one is the availability of home, office, and portable computers; and the other is the exponential growth in the information that has to be processed in order to deliver optimal care. Computers have advanced patient care through improvements in documentation, evaluation, and treatment modalities (e.g., virtual reality). They have advanced education by providing convenient access to academic resources, adding decision support modules to electronic records, and by introducing educational software. Research was promoted through the use of sophisticated statistical tools, the convenience of access to clinical databases, and through the introduction of new evaluation and treatment modalities. Communication on intranets and on the Internet has significantly improved all aspects of psychiatric practice. Specific topics that require further development and clarification include: electronic records, confidentiality in electronic networks, the role of telepsychiatry and virtual reality in psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation.

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