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DoD Tests Medical Record Chip

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 1997 – Service members may soon carry their medical records in dog-tag-like computer chips if DoD field testing goes well.

The device is the Personal Information Carrier, or PIC, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck said during a Pentagon briefing Nov. 6. The small, rugged carrier stores an individual's medical status and history, including medical documents, X-rays and vaccination records.

Blanck said the Army has tested the device at Fort Detrick, Md., and Fort Gordon, Ga. Tests of the newest version begin next year at a small medical treatment facility yet to be chosen, he added. He said a critical factor in field testing has been durability.

"You have to have technology that folks can use in the field that can withstand the extremes of cold and heat, go through mud and all kinds of things that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are faced with, and still be able to be used," Blanck said.

The 1998 operational test will demonstrate whether carriers can totally replace paper medical records, film images and analog audio/video recordings, according to DoD officials. If yes, Blanck said, all personnel -- and family members -- treated at military medical facilities in the future will have the tags.

Two possible concerns Blanck addressed were sensitive information and security. The military services, under the auspices of the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, are developing policies to cover those areas.

"You can't just get this thing and take it to any personal computer and read it," he said. The information will also be encrypted.

Blanck said he expects carriers could be deployed as early as 1999. Service members would wear them just like today's metal dog tags. Medical personnel will update the chips using portable computers whenever service members are examined or treated.

Today's carrier can hold hundreds of pages of medical information as well as x-rays, video and voice. It fits into an adapter that slides into a standard computer PC Card slot. Blanck expects future carrier chips to have a storage capacity of 256 megabytes.

He said the high-tech tag is the answer to easily documenting care during deployments. Also, deployment processing should speed since the carriers will hold the wearers' entire medical history, including predeployment health status, he added.

"We learned a number of lessons in the Persian Gulf War and that experience," Blanck said. "One [was] we needed something better than the same paper record we've used in deployments since World War I.

"We think this is really an advance and will allow us to continue to provide quality health care and do it on the leading edge of technology using our information automation system in ways that support the deployments of tomorrow," he said.

Though complete, the tag won't be the wearer's only record -- medical personnel will transmit carrier information to consolidated databases so it's not lost if tags are lost or damaged.

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