Wireless technology may help doctors treat patients

Wednesday, 19 November, 2003

Wireless technology may put doctors who don't rely on desktop computers and paper charts in a better position to treat their patients.

That theory is being tested by students in the Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) in the US who are developing wireless technology for fast and secure transmission of patient information using handheld devices.

The students recently developed a mobile/wireless application prototype with a limited number of information fields. Using IBM's mobile database product, the prototype enabled communications between handheld devices and the university's Acute Pain Management Database.

The two-way synchronisation allowed for creation, updating and deletion of patient records from any location.

"It's virtual and it's multi-processing - it can have several processes on at once," said Stan Aungst, Assistant Professor of information sciences and technology. "It allows physicians to query the database and have the answers they need."

"The goal was to improve patient care by looking at how well people who had certain types of procedures did with certain types of anesthesia," said Gregg Schuler, senior research assistant. "But not only was it cumbersome to download the information, but as it became a research tool, we had to figure out ways to query and transmit the information.

"One of the problems when you go wireless is that it gets a little easier for people from outside to hack in," Schuler said. "So we talked with Dr Aungst about how to create a wireless, secure database that would allow health care providers to put information into a handheld device and transmit it wirelessly to a mobile phone or some other receiver in a secure fashion."

The students solved the major challenge of ensuring patient privacy over a wireless network by encrypting data through user IDs and passwords, a secure VPN and data encryption.

In the future, this type of technology would allow operating room staff to exchange information from one part of the hospital to another, or for physicians working at a satellite location to receive important patient information wirelessly and privately.

"Ultimately, this way of tracking data and safely sharing information could be extended to almost every part of our patient care," Schuler said.

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