Medical history sits in your pocket with 'Poket Doktor'

July 2, 2001

Medicine's ability to store and share digital images and information has increased exponentially, yet the availability of critical data in medical emergencies remains dubious. Emergency physicians and surgeons frequently find themselves performing major

Medicine's ability to store and share digital images and information has increased exponentially, yet the availability of critical data in medical emergencies remains dubious. Emergency physicians and surgeons frequently find themselves performing major surgery on patients for whom they have no personal medical history - often with uncertain outcomes.

A solution may be at hand, thanks to the ingenuity of four electrical and computer engineering students at Brigham Young University. The group came up with a gadget called the Poket Doktor, a prototype of a microchip-embedded smart card that uses Bluetooth wireless technology to relay medical information at the scene of an accident even if the patient is unable to communicate.

Healthcare providers would issue encrypted cards to patients on which up to 32 KB of vital health information - allergies, surgical history, blood type, current medications - is electronically stored. Emergency medical personnel would then be outfitted with handheld Poket Doktor devices capable of automatically detecting medical cards in a victim's wallet or purse and accessing that information at accident scenes or in the emergency department.

The device even addresses security concerns. The encrypted medical data stored on Poket Doktor could be unscrambled only by a physician or paramedic with laptop, cell phone, or handheld computer programmed with reciprocal software.

Bluetooth, a wireless communications protocol named after the Danish Viking chieftain who united Norway and Denmark in the tenth century, is expected eventually to unite the telecommunications industry under one wireless networking standard. The revolutionary technology uses an inexpensive radio transmitter the size of a dime, employing short-range radio waves to transfer information wirelessly between digital appliances within 60 feet of each other.

With Bluetooth, computer peripherals like printers and scanners - and perhaps one day imaging modalities - can be liberated from the usual kludge of connecting cables. While Bluetooth devices are still rare, estimates suggest that by 2005 more than 700 million will ship annually.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) thought enough of the Poket Doktor idea to award it third place in the June world finals of the IEEE Computer Society International Design Competition.