March 6, 2006
 

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Posted: 12.01.05

Little Computer Makes Big Impact

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By Eric Zeman




There’s no shortage of dramatic stories from the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. And few are more dramatic than those coming out of St. Bernard Parish, where waters rose so quickly that before people could even get out of their chairs, they found themselves swimming in their living rooms. There was hardly enough time to get upstairs, let alone run to the bathroom to grab their medications, before their ground-level floors were filled with water from Lake Pontchartrain.

Many were only saved after spending days in cramped, oven-like attics that remained above the flood waters. Once plucked from their rooftops and safely moved to dry ground, many residents of St. Bernard Parish found themselves without their much-needed, life-preserving medications.
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church felt compelled to help. The church sponsored a team of 12 healthcare professionals from the Bay Area and sent them to St. Bernard Parish to assist with relief efforts. Enoch Choi, M.D., a partner at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Urgent Care Facility, was one of those professionals. “We set up a clinic under the auspices of a coalition of local churches to feed and clothe victims with donations from the local Wal-Mart. Many residents found nothing salvageable. But we were chiefly there to provide medical care.”

He went on to say, “We were taking care of patients even before we set up a tent and got some folding chairs. Most of what we were doing was prescription refills and triaging injured people so those who needed urgent care could be sent to the hospital. We also performed IV re-hydration and were able to help a heart attack victim receive a stent. There were lots of stories of avoidable serious illness.”

Sounds like basic relief efforts so far, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the use of mobile technology. Dr. Choi’s team was equipped with five OQO ultra personal computers (donated by OQO) to help them access the records they needed. Using a laptop with a Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess connection, they created an ad-hoc wireless network with the OQOs using Wi-Fi. “It was essential to have Internet connectivity because many people didn’t know what medications they were on. We were able to access a special Web site built by the government to access one million health records. Using the patients’ name, date of birth and zip code, we were able to determine what medications they were receiving before the hurricane and write them new prescriptions when appropriate. If I didn’t have a way to find out what medicine they were on, they walked away from me without a prescription. It seems like maybe a small thing, but they were provided the basics and we were able to give them access to healthcare.”

Dr. Choi also noted that, “laptops would not have worked. There were no tables, no chairs. We needed something that could hook onto our belts and be held in one hand. The OQO was vital to get the work done. People were waiting in lines for hours for FEMA or insurance help. They were not going to come over to the clinic, so we had to go to where the patients were. This was not something you can do with a laptop. You had to have something that is much more compact and mobile.”

Other than the patient records and Rx writing, Dr. Choi was able to link into his own company intranet through Citrix. “That was important because I had resources that were available at my office that otherwise wouldn’t have been available in the field, such as a medicine interaction database and information on resources that were up to date. It was as if I were sitting at my desk at work. That was very helpful.”

Interestingly, Dr. Choi did not see any other mobile technology being put to use. “I saw no wireless PDAs, just cell phones. FEMA was using paper and pen.”
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