On the battlefield, handheld PCs will give data to medics fast

On the battlefield, handheld PCs will give data to medics fast

Army is evaluating portable systems for accessing and updating patients' health information

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Army will deploy thousands of portable PCs to field medics for combat casualty care.

The service's Requirement Review Council in May approved the $108.2 million project. The service expects that it will complete the initial rollout for the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care program by 2007.


Portable computers known as Electronic Field Medical Charts will replace what Army officials call toe tags, or field medical cards, by 2010, says Lt. Col. James B. Crowther.

Before it begins implementation, however, the service needs the OK of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Joint Requirements Oversight Council, said Lt. Col. James B. Crowther, MC4 project manager at Fort Detrick, Md.

Narrow the choices

The portable computers, known as Electronic Field Medical Charts, would replace field medical cards, thick paper forms on which medics write down the identities of injured soldiers and record information about treatment.

Army officials call the field medical cards toe tags because they have wires with which medics can attach patient copies to the soldiers, Crowther said.

The EFMCs will run the Theatre Medical Information Program. The government-developed software will let field medics create a record that includes a patient's name, identification number and unit, and symptoms or injuries.

The Army MC4 team has yet to choose the portable equipment'whether notebook PCs or handhelds'or an EFMC operating system, he said. The team has decided that MC4 servers will run Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0. The team is developing operations for synchronizing records on the portables with data stored on MC4 servers, Crowther said.

The portables will have at least one Type II PC Card slot to access data on personal information carriers (PIC)'essentially electronic dog tags'and public-key infrastructure applications.

The MC4 team is evaluating notebook PC products such as IBM ThinkPads and Toughbooks from Panasonic Personal Computer Co. of Secaucus, N.J., Crowther said.

For the prototype, 'we are using laptops now, but we do have concerns about weight and size,' he said.

With PKI, 'the big trick is to get everyone into violent agreement to reduce the variation' between different Army Medical Command programs that will use PKI technology, he said.

In the near term, the EFMC systems will use magnetic media, including 3.5-inch floppy disks and PICs because 'God only created
so much bandwidth,' Crowther said.

MC4 officials have reviewed the cost of buying ruggedized units and maintaining them, as opposed to using off-the-shelf systems.

But Jacques Gansler, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has directed Defense Department officials to 'use commercial equipment whenever possible,' Crowther said.

'The robustness of handhelds and laptops we're looking at, as well as servers, is more than adequate for the environments we're running them in,' he said.

A chief concern is that EFMC equipment not hinder battlefield medical efforts. In most cases, field medics are 19- to 21-year-old enlisted personnel, said Chuck Dasey, an Army Medical Research and Materiel Command spokesman at Fort Detrick.

'The equipment must not be so burdensome as to interfere with the setup and tear-down of medical units,' Crowther said. The MC4 equipment, including the servers, will have to be carried by four soldiers, he said.

Another concern is security. 'At what level do we encrypt? That's a problem throughout DOD,' he said.

'We don't have a full solution for MC4 yet,' Crowther said. 'It's like building a house, and this one will be completed by fiscal year 2010,' when EFMCs will be used throughout the Army.

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