A team at the
Applied Physics Laboratory has developed and recently
demonstrated new technologies that would automate patient
monitoring and tracking during emergency situations, such
as a mass casualty disaster, enhancing medical personnel's
ability to care for a larger number of patients.
Through a $3 million grant from the U.S. National
Library of Medicine, the National Security Technology
Department's Systems Concepts and Analysis Group developed
the Advanced Health and Disaster Aid Network of electronic
devices used to monitor and track patients and to display
vital information to users in facilities such as hospitals
and in incoming ambulances.
"For years responders have performed these critical
tasks with paper triage tags, clipboards of notes, phones
and hand-held radios," said APL's Tia Gao, project manager.
"This work flow has proven labor intensive, time consuming
and prone to human error. AID-N is the only technology of
its kind that automates the entire tracking process for
providers, vehicles and patients."
Algorithms developed by the team enable the devices to
continually monitor a patient's vital statistics and alert
a responder when immediate attention is required. Using a
digital assistant-like device with embedded camera and
Blue-tooth scanner, responders can quickly record a
patient's identification information--often by simply
scanning the barcode on a driver's license--and look at
triage details, treatments, photographs and real-time
"This greatly improves the process of reassessing
patients," Gao said.
Using sensors that communicate on a wireless industry
standard known as Zigbee, the electronic tags transmit data
to GPS-equipped laptops installed inside ambulances, at
care facilities and at designated areas of a disaster site.
The project recently culminated in a mock disaster
exercise held at Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.,
in collaboration with the Montgomery County Emergency
Medical Services group and Bethesda-based Suburban
Hospital. The scenario--a large school-bus accident--was
developed by the National Security Technology Department's
Marty Sikes, who develops outbreak scenarios for APL's
ESSENCE epidemic-tracking program, in coordination with the
Montgomery County Department of Homeland Security.
The patients were tracked by two teams of responders,
one using the current paper-based triage method and the
other, the electronic devices. One incident commander
manually tallied the number of patients from each team,
alerting the hospital to the number being transferred. The
hospital and ambulances, both outfitted with the team's
monitoring equipment, could track patients' locations and
medical status using a Web site.
"During the drill, the incident commander miscounted
the number of patients being sent to the hospital, but the
hospital, monitoring actual data on the Web site, realized
fewer patients were incoming," Gao said. "This helped them
provide adequate care without overallocating hospital
Other members of the APL-led national team included
researchers from Harvard University, who developed the
software mesh networking capabilities that run the triage
tags; the University of Maryland, who developed software
for the devices; and the University of Virginia, who
designed the tag hardware.
Suburban Hospital, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and a
collection of emergency medical services groups from
Baltimore, Montgomery and Arlington counties helped define
user requirements and review prototypes, in addition to
providing personnel and ambulances for the drill.
APL's team is now preparing a report to be published
by the National Library of Medicine and is seeking funds to
support further technology development efforts, such as
modifying the sensors to detect hazardous chemical or
For more about the AID-N project, go to www.aid-n.org.