The Blackberry & September 11, 2001

By: Sean O'Mara MD

Sean is a Senior Emergency Medicine Resident Physician at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio Texas. He is a 1997 graduate of Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to entering medicine he was a former narcotics prosecutor in Pennsylvania for three years and a 1989 graduate of Villanova University School of Law in Philadelphia. He is also a 1985 graduate of Penn State University. He currently resides in San Antonio with his wife Julie and three children Keilin, Reilly and Sean. He maintains a growing interest in novel technology applications within medicine especially wireless and handheld technology, developing medical devices and Homeland Defense initiatives within medicine.

It was Tuesday morning the second day of the military medical technology conference that I had been invited to attend for the first time. I had previously just received my first handheld device, a Blackberry 957 Enterprise Edition handheld by RIM, which I was eager to show off to my medical colleagues for their opinion. We were all getting settled to listen to the first lecture of the morning when my Blackberry email indicator went off.

My twin brother was emailing me for assistance. It was the 11th of September and he was in the Senate Office Building in Washington DC. As far as I could tell I was the first in the crowded room to learn of the fateful events of the 11th. Just a few minutes earlier I had been demo'ing my device to some individuals assigned to Army Special Operations. Now my device was a conduit to provide an instantaneous reports of the rapidly developing events of that day.

As news spread and people tried to use their cell phones and pocket modems the vulnerability of these devices was vividly demonstrated. In contrast to all these was the device I owned. It provided the opportunity to instantaneously communicate two ways, with my twin and others, information I sought or wanted to pass on. My twin was stuck in traffic on a bridge trying to leave Washington near the Pentagon and the drifting smoke. He was even then so early on asking about anthrax and what he should do. We communicated back and forth throughout the day while others remained out of touch though overloaded cell and modem systems. The Blackberry was different.

The Blackberry handheld is a completely wireless handheld device which integrates with existing email including enterprise servers with advanced security using Triple DES encryption technology. It operates over nationwide wireless data networks in the US and Canada with over 95% coverage in major cities. Its always on always connected feature averts the requirement for extra steps to sync or otherwise connect to either push or pull data - the Blackberry is constantly doing this. When combined with AvantGo it provides a powerful resource to quickly and efficiently access data. Embedded html addresses within email messages can be instantaneously accessed to take the user to intranet websites vastly increasing data availability. Additionally, the AvantGo feature permits the handheld to access any web enabled product instantly caching the needed product onto the device through compression technology for instant or future use. It is therefore not necessary to be held to just a few medical programs from which to chose or limit your handheld to use. Now, the Blackberry owner can instantaneously select for their present needs whatever program or data they require.

As a young military physician I am excited about the future and its increased potential for significant advancements within both medicine and technology. However, especially exciting is when these two areas overlap. Promising wireless applications within medicine offer significant potential for improving the efficiency and quality of services rendered by health care providers. The Blackberry I believe has a role in this regard and the events of September 11th illustrate its exceptional capability.

Consider the usefulness of this device to an army of physicians deployed to a mass casualty incident. Amidst what would otherwise be pandemonium would ,under the Blackberry, be an organized matrix of informed physicians and other health care providers. These providers could be constantly informed and updated with valuable information as vital details emerged. Treatment plans, security and logistical concerns and timely updates could be instantaneously disseminated to everyone or to a select few as needed.

Other past mass casualty events have demonstrated the need for this capability and may unfortunately pale in comparison with future events. I believe consideration should be given to provide our EMS systems and other health care providers responding to these events the capability to operate efficiently under what will undoubtedly be challenging circumstances. A fully functional and reliable wireless device which affords two way communication, always on always connected, with the ability to access critical medical software through AvantGo is presently available. With time better solutions will emerge however, delaying deployment of presently existing technology with such useful capability now makes little sense in light of the present need.

Dr. Sean O'Mara can be reached via email

© 2001 PDA cortex. All Rights Reserved
IT's Cutting Edge