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GPS in Healthcare

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/25/2011

GPS may not sound like the most useful technology for healthcare, but GPS tracking devices have proven to be a powerful addition to the suite of tools available to health professionals.... to a limited extent. Here's an overview.

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    Faster Response Time

    GPS technology has helped streamline the process of finding accident victims at precise geographic locations, i.e. along a road, etc. Thus shaving off precious minutes in which an injury might become fatal. Technology such as OnStar will automatically alert the local authorities if an accident occurs and use GPS to tell them exactly where to go. These valuable minutes saved through automation of logging and communication are crucial for rapid response times in which accident victims can be located and treated, potentially saving lives.

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    Alzheimer's: Forgetting Where You Are

    Placing some sort of GPS tracking device on patients may seem like a civil rights lawsuit in the works - as is sometimes the case - but it has also proven incredibly useful for knowing the whereabouts of patients who are likely to attempt to go missing, escape, wander off and not receive the care they require.

    The most well-known instance of this is of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Victims slowly become more and more confused and forgetful as to the time and place in which they exist, leading to the certain tendency to wander about and get themselves thoroughly lost and incapable of returning home.

    GPS to the rescue. With a simple bracelet, the whereabouts of an Alzheimer's patient can be tracked in case of such an incident. There are a number of other companies that sell GPS devices to this end, such as Digital Angel. Most of them are programmed with a predesignated area. If the patient leaves, the device may point them in the correct direction, much like a digital compass, and/or alert family members as to their exact whereabouts, enabling a quick and timely recovery.

    Of course, such options are still a bit on the pricey side, and taking such an ethically complex step as tracking someone's whereabouts at all time is a controversial one that should be discussed at length with everyone involved, doctor, family and patient.

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    Implantable Chips: Too Much?

    GPS tracking wristbands are available to be worn at all times. Why not just implant the GPS chip?

    While this technology is available, use of implantable GPS tracking chips - known as RFID chips - has not picked up. VeriChip, the only company to market such chips, has reported that 222 patients have opted for the implantable chip as of 2006 after three years of sales. This is out of the estimated 45 million patients that the company claims would benefit from the implant.

    Why? Primarily, a fear of invasion of privacy. While VeriChip guarantees that all tracking information is kept completely private until the need to use it arises, most people simply dislike and distrust the idea of having a little locating chip implanted into their body. This makes it unlikely that GPS technology is going to advance much further in the health care industry, in this capacity.






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