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DoD Moves Ahead on Digital Dog Tags

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 1999 – In the future, service members may wear two kinds of dog tags instead of one -- the traditional metal ID tags and a new plastic tag bearing digitized medical information.

Defense officials are considering using Personal Information Carriers, known as PICs. Similar to the plastic memory cards used to store pictures taken with digital cameras, the PIC holds a service member's shot record and data on allergies and surgical history.

While the metal tags would continue to serve as the primary means of identification on the battlefield, the PIC would give field medical personnel access to service members' medical records. It could be read by laptop computers at battalion aid stations.

The military first issued each service member an aluminum dog tag in 1906. During World War I, mindful of the realities of war deaths, the military began issuing two tags, one to be interred with the body, the second to turned over to personnel to record the death.

DoD recently awarded Informatec, Inc., a contract to produce an initial order of 5,000 to 20,000 digital tags, which will be demonstrated in simulated operational environments in the next few months. The contract includes options for a total of 2.5 million tags over the next five years, according to Lt. Col. Bradley Dawkins, an Air Force physician and DoDs PIC project manager.

DoD has not yet decided to employ the high capacity PIC, however. Dawkins said the department is also developing digital Smart Cards to carry an individuals security key and other information. Officials are studying whether the cards could also carry medical information, Dawkins said.

If the department fields the PIC, the initial versions will hold only text-based data, Dawkins noted. Eventually, as data capacity increases and costs per device decreases, they also may hold X-rays, EKG and MRI results and other multimedia data, he said.

The PIC is part of the Composite Health Care System II (CHCS II), a computerized system designed to allow providers to track health care services delivered to members of the militarys health care beneficiary community.

The PIC would be an electronic theater medical record in settings where computer network connectivity is unavailable. Thus, the PICs would give in-theater health care providers immediate access to accurate clinical information and would allow them to update service members' permanent records in the field.

The PICs are a result of lessons learned following the Gulf War, Dawkins explained. Defense officials found medical services performed in the field did not always reach service members' permanent paper medical records. A 1998 presidential report on Gulf War illness directed the department to develop a force health protection program and maintain consistent, continuous records, he said.

Researching Gulf War illness using paper-based medical records proved difficult, Dawkins added. Digital information, he said, lends itself more readily to statistical analysis.

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