Identifying Patients in Haiti

One problem doctors are having in Haiti is identifying those who have been treated. Has no one ever heard of an RFID bracelet?
Published: January 28, 2010

It’s painful to watch what’s currently happening in Haiti, because I know things don’t have to be as bad on the ground as they are. Several reports have focused on the inability to identify patients, and to know what treatments they have or have not received.

I’ve spoken about this problem with a number of first-responders, doctors and companies that manufacture or manage equipment for emergency medical teams. In any kind of a natural disaster, pandemonium reigns, and it’s very difficult to organize a triage area, prioritize patient treatment and manage the evacuation of the wounded. Patients are often unconscious, or do not speak the same language as the doctors or nurses, so they are unable to communicate whether they did or did not receive a painkiller or antibiotic.

For our special November/December 2009 issue, RFID 2030, I wrote a piece in which I imagined an industrial accident at a chemical plant in a fictitious Texas town (see When Every Minute Counts). The victims in the story were immediately provided with RFID bracelets, and information regarding any treatments received was written to the tags. Data on the evacuation priority of different patients was also written to the tags, and emergency-management teams used active RFID and GPS to monitor arriving ambulances, so that they could assign specific patients to particular vehicles.

All of the technology required to manage a disaster in the way I imagined for that article is currently available. I’m not confident, however, that we will ever get to the point at which we respond in as organized a manner as illustrated in the story, because egos and a lack of vision often prevent people from doing what can be done. It seems almost criminally negligent that none of the aid groups responding in Haiti are utilizing 21st-century technology to respond to natural disasters, which we know will always happen—even if we don’t know when and where they will take place.

After my last blog, “The Tragedy in Haiti,” I received a note from a reader saying her company was working on a solution with IBM. That’s encouraging. Maybe IBM can help build a smarter disaster response. For those who will sadly be the victims of the next natural or person-made disaster, I sure hope so.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.