Army medics get new handhelds for battle applications

Thousands of U.S. Army medics around the globe will soon begin carrying new ruggedized wireless handheld computers into battle to record an injured soldier's name, vital statistics, and the initial medical treatment to be quickly transmitted to doctors and nurses at hospitals.

The new device, the Motorola MC70, is part of the Army's US$750 million Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) program, which has deployed 19,000 laptops, handhelds and other computer systems since 2003 to combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as around the world to Special Operations Forces, an Army spokesman said today.

The Army will not disclose the exact number or location for the deployment of the new MC70s, which will slowly replace existing Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq 4700 handhelds. However, "thousands" of MC70s will be deployed by the "end of the summer," said Orie Illi, MC4's deputy product manager, in an e-mail.

The new MC70 is ruggedized without the need for an external case, as the iPaq did, Illi noted. The MC70 also has both a 44-key keyboard, in addition to a touch screen that is activated with a stylus, giving users a choice of input styles, while the iPaq only included a touch screen, he said.

Also, the new MC70 has wireless capability, which is currently not approved for use, but is expected to be approved to provide wireless voice and data communications to medics, reducing the need for a separate radio, Illi said. It has a bar-code scanner for recording data quickly from an ID card as well as a package of medicine, which was also unavailable in the previous handheld.

"From a functionality perspective, it will be like switching users from beepers to BlackBerries," said Lt. Commander Edward Clayton, the MC4 commander, in a statement.

Under current procedures, the iPaq must be synchronized to a laptop to transmit data on a patient, a process that will initially apply to the MC70 as well, Illi said. The MC70s have not yet been deployed in Southwest Asian countries, but the Army conducted "extensive environmental testing to make sure they would withstand the harsh conditions on the battlefield," Illi said.

Medics are trained to enter as much information as possible for each patient to help medical staff providing additional care, and the inputs can be done quickly with a series of drop-down menus, Illi said. If a medic has time to treat a soldier on a sick call and not in battle, a thorough set of information is gathered. The handhelds are synced to laptops, and the data is then uploaded to a database in a central repository in the U.S. for a lifetime medical record that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can also access.

MC70 handhelds have a history of uses in industry and health care, including checking luggage at airports, scanning tickets at sporting events and monitoring the location of packages for delivery, a Motorola spokesman said.

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