Support: The Paperless Battlefield


August 30, 2007: The paperless office may still be a long time coming, but there's a lot less paper on the battlefield, at least when U.S. troops are involved. Laptops and PDAs are increasingly common gear for combat troops, and that eliminates a lot of paper. Moreover, U.S. military equipment and weapons are increasingly filled with microprocessors, and displays for the users. Most reports are now prepared on a laptop, and transmitted electronically. This includes some reports that are prepared under fire. Army medics used to fill out a paper form after they had treated a casualty, and attached that form to the soldier as he was evacuated. Sometimes the casualty form was lost, or made hard to read by, say, getting blood on it. At the field hospital, the doctors may have had problems with the medics handwriting. Not much you could do, as everyone knew that the poor guy was probably writing in bad light, with a battle going on around him.

Over the last few years, the army has introduced computerized patient records, that can now be created using a PDA. Some 5,000 of these PDAs have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Combat medics keep info on the people their units on these HP Ipaq devices. If someone is wounded, the medic quickly records the treatment on the PDA, and transmits it to the field hospital. There, the record keeps getting updated as the patient goes through treatment. The electronic record of treatments become part of the soldiers permanent medical records.

The medics prefer the PDA to the old forms, as does all the other medical personnel that had to deal with the paper documents in the past. All this is part of the Department of Defense's effort to create a battlefield Internet. It's arriving, a piece at a time.


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