When it matters most

April 1, 2011

Rugged computing devices and mobile health technologies enable safe and responsive care.

John Thompson

Be it a coastal hurricane or live combat situation overseas, federal defense organizations and emergency first responders must expect the unexpected in order to save lives. Today, a powerful combination of sophisticated mobile health applications, rugged mobile computing devices and secure wireless networks is making a new level of emergency preparedness possible.

When disaster strikes

Although electronic health records (EHRs) have been around for some time, many health organizations providing care in remote areas have had to use antiquated paper recording systems due to infrastructure and security limitations. The latest rugged devices are lighter than legacy devices and able to withstand harsh environments and physical conditions. Housed in these devices, advanced mobile health applications empower first responders to make better-informed care decisions and reduce the risk of human error common to paper recording processes. Secure wireless networks ensure real-time access to vital health information without compromising patient privacy or other mission-critical data.

In addition to providing real-time access to vital health information, rugged devices also feature RFID and barcode scanning that enable capabilities from patient triage and transport to family reunification in the event of a large-scale emergency.

Triage tags now contain unique barcodes that identify and link patients to their health and treatment information. No longer encumbered by pen and paper processes, responders can use electronic devices to rapidly and accurately document injuries and treatment. This information can then be sent to an off-site doctor to determine the best course of care for an acute wound, or to a hospital so ER staff can be ready the moment a patient arrives.

First responders can use the same rugged devices and barcode-scanning technologies to track medicine and other medical assets in transit, confirm clinician credentialing and authentication, and conduct important security verifications on the scene. First responder access credentials (FRAC) are rapidly becoming the standard for response teams securing disaster perimeters. FRAC badges, similar to the Department of Defense's (DoD) common access card (CAC), can be created on the spot so that security personnel can, with a quick barcode scan, easily identify and clear authorized personnel, visitors and volunteers on site.

Moreover, rugged devices are often equipped with global positioning systems (GPS) so that first responders can download maps and communicate with other mobile units. When a situation requires mass evacuation, patient triage and transport combined with GPS, these capabilities allow first responders to track evacuees' locations and confirm a safe evacuation.

Saving lives in extreme environments

Field triage units in active combat zones are under pressure to prioritize patient care under extreme conditions in some of the most remote locations. The same RFID and bar-coding technologies used in response to national emergencies are essential in theatre. For example, military medics in a remote desert can document and treat soldiers' injuries with rugged handheld devices that withstand intense environmental conditions.

Military medics can use handheld devices to transmit vital patient health and photographs of injuries so that physicians can prioritize victims in critical condition, determine military hospital availability and arrange for the victim to be sent to a hospital with the equipment necessary to treat the injury. Patient data is available in real time, allowing military physicians to view test results immediately upon availability and nurses to monitor vital signs of victims in the moments between seeing patients.

Security is key to comprehensive military health communication. Rugged devices that operate on standalone, deployable wireless communication systems meet stringent federal security and HIPAA-compliant requirements in addition to providing full visibility into the most dire of situations. When a secure wireless connection is available in theatre, medics can access a soldier's medical history, collect and transmit patient vital signs and arrival time while en route to a base hospital — without compromising the security of a critical mission. Whether a private wireless system is deployed or a traditional wireless network is chosen, rugged devices operating on secure networks enable comprehensive reliable communication.

John Thompson is
vice president and director,
Federal Wireless Mobility Sales and
Alliances, Motorola Solutions.
For more information on
Motorola Solutions:

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