ARCHIVED - Transforming Triage Technology

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June 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

Photo taken after the terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
Photo taken after the terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The death and injury caused by a natural disaster or terrorist attack can be made even worse by the daunting logistics of dealing with victims. Dozens or even hundreds of people may be treated on site, but the details of each person's condition can be delayed or lost when they are transferred to a formal medical facility. Staff at clinics or hospitals can receive patients without having the advantage of this valuable information, making it much harder to track their ongoing care. Moreover, first responders do not always have up to date information on the nature of the disaster and thus may themselves be at risk from toxins or other hazards.

That prospect laid the foundation for an ambitious project coordinated by the National Research Council, and funded by the Defence Research and Development Canada's CBR Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). The project resulted in a straightforward piece of software that can turn any computer into a powerful clearing house for emergency medical information.

The program, called the Rapid Triage Management Workbench (RTMW), is now being marketed by Ottawa-based AMITA Corporation. Both the American and NORAD military organizations are interested in the technology and have invited its creators to participate in a prestigious demonstration event designed to rigorously test products these massive organizations might wish to use.

"The RTMW is a completely wireless, Internet-based system that's rugged and portable," says Laura Brown, a Senior Research Officer and Group Leader with the NRC Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB). A microbiologist by training, she coordinated the project that included members of AMITA, Carleton University's Human Oriented Technology (HOT) Lab, and the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Sonny Lundahl, AMITA's vice-president of research and development, praised Brown's role as an independent overseer of this diverse collection of partners. "They're not always an easy bunch to manage, and she did a remarkable job at that."

Mr. Lundahl also credited Carleton University's HOT Lab with creating an extremely simple interface for the RTMW.

"The system had to be very easy to learn because there would be no time for users of the system to learn in the field," he says. "It also had to be very intuitive to use."

According to Dr. Brown, the RTMW surpassed expectations. "When we did our final acceptance testing by first responders who'd never seen it before, we had scheduled 30 minutes of training time. Within 10 minutes they were using it. It's that easy to use."

She adds that the format remains independent of any particular language or specific approach to triage, making the product suitable for use in other countries: "It's not a matter of imposing a particular system on anyone, it can be adapted as part of existing or future emergency plans."

Photo taken after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Photo taken after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The software can handle crisis scenarios on practically any scale. RTMW enables someone to create a database for monitoring casualties and their status, whether there are just a handful of cases or hundreds of thousands. This information can then be shared instantly with others in the field and at institutions awaiting the arrival of injured parties by ambulance.

Although initially conceived as a means of responding to a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack, the RTMW is equally capable of handing random events such as a major industrial accident or an earthquake. "It answers a universal need to capture, coordinate, and disseminate medical information anywhere you might have mass casualties," says Dr. Brown.

The system is being proposed for use by various municipal and regional health authorities, but it could be used by American military agencies, depending on how well the RTMW performs at the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Demonstration in June. This three-week event will explore how the software works under demanding conditions. If it does well, RTMW could join an extensive array of sophisticated information management tools employed by soldiers in settings around the world.

This new technology holds the potential to reduce the tragedies associated with natural and industrial disasters or terrorist attacks by keeping track of medical information that can help save countless lives.

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National Research Council of Canada

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