In the health care sector, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, as its compliance deadlines phase in, is requiring health care providers to turn to higher-tech operations to store and protect patient data and conduct electronic transactions.

Canyonlands Community Health Care, which operates a group of rural clinics in northern Arizona, was keeping records on paper two years ago. With a compliance deadline at its doorstep, it invested $500,000 in a computer network that stores patient records and other data. “That’s a big chunk of change for a nonprofit to commit to,” said Garrett Martin, information technology director of Canyonlands, who was brought in to install the system.

When the system is fully up and running this summer, doctors and nurses will be able to access medical records, e-mail and billing through hand-held computers and a secure, wireless network. “We’ve already realized efficiency, from the time a patient makes an appointment to the time we get them out the door,” Mr. Martin said. Concrete results are the big sell for small businesses.

Frank Muehleman, general manager for small and medium business at Dell, said: “They’re the most discriminating and discerning group when it comes to where and how to spend their money. Small businesses do not buy technology hoping there’ll be some payback in the future. They want immediate payback.”

(from High Tech Isn’t Just for the Big Guys)