Paging Dr. Tux
Jun 07, 2008, 01:30 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor (and Potential Citizen of Oz)
Okay, so for like, the second time in six years, I'm late with a
column. I have a fairly good reason this week: a tornado warning
aimed straight for my home.
The good news is, this was one of those Doppler-indicated
rotations, so there was no actual touchdown. Lots of lightning,
though, so I felt it prudent to shut down my systems as the storm
passed. All is well now, though, and I'm ready to jot some things
Dealing with emergencies like this is something that a lot of us
(hopefully) do not have to do. But whether its nature or violence
or technological failure, bad things do happen to people and being
equipped to deal with such things is very important.
As some of you may recall, I spend one night a week volunteering
at a local hospital. When we moved to our new home last year, the
local hospital assigned me to the emergency room, which is, to say
the very least, very interesting. As the local trauma center for a
small city, all manner of cases come through the ER: from the child
who's swallowed a coin to the gunshot victim who's not going to
make it through the night.
You might imagine that I don't get a lot of tech exposure in
this job, which consists mainly of prepping rooms, making patients
and visitors comfortable, and doing the various odd errand. And you
would be right. This week however, during a lull, I noticed one of
the EMTs had brought in one of their Toughbooks, the Panasonic
laptop that's designed for lots of outdoor work.
Now, off the bat, I noted that it was running Windows XP. Being
a geek and wanting to catch a breather, I introduced myself and
asked him if he liked the device. He told me that it was all right,
but he wished it could do more.
I queried him a bit and he explained that when they'd received
them, they had been promised a device that would allow for more
comprehensive coverage with the hospitals before, during, and after
patient transport. And while the little laptop was good for things
like log keeping and supply tracking, the communication aspect of
it was fairly limited.
It was not just the machine's fault; the various hospitals in
the area did not have equipment or software to receive patient
information from these laptops. Ambulance services, public and
private, still have to rely on voice communication and dedicated
telemetry units to transmit things like heart rhythm and rate.
In other words, just like on the 1970s TV show
Emergency!. Granted, that's just one county with a
medium-sized population. But there's a lot more total patients
going through those ERs than the big metro hospitals in the US.
So here's what I'd like to see happen: all of this new
UMPC/netbook technology that's making the headlines right now is
great stuff. I love it, and am contemplating picking up such a
device for myself. How cool would it be if a project could come
together to adapt one of the mobile Linux platforms into something
insanely stable and able to communicate with the hospitals from the
On the flip-side, build a cluster of Linux machines that could
immediately pull in and index all of the data being sent in from
the field devices: images, data, voice. One box talking to the
hospital, with screens of information coming in to let nurses and
doctors make faster decisions about how to treat the patient.
I think about things like that, and think about them running
Linux so they're cheaper, faster, and more secure right out of the
box, and I wonder how such a thing might get started.
Maybe with just a word in someones' ears.