SCMP Monday, July 31, 2000

Tested by a typhoon


The first time the Hospital Authority used computers to help in a medical emergency was in 1991 when Typhoon Fred flipped over an oil barge, killing 12 crew and throwing the remaining 195 overboard.

Fifty victims were treated at Princess Margaret Hospital, where Dr Jimmy Chan had been posted, and where he and others had been experimenting with an IBM computer and its uses in medicine.

"For the first time, we were able to keep an accurate list of the victims," he said. "Previously, every [government] department kept its own list - police, immigration and so on. It was always inaccurate. But with the help of the computer, those problems were solved. That was the first time I saw the power of the computer."

Dr Chan is now seeking to harness the power of ICQ, the software usually used in Internet chat rooms. With a team of information technology and medical experts, Dr Chan is experimenting with using ICQ in hospitals to aid communication during disasters. "The phone lines are always jammed during disasters, as everyone's dialling in to see what's happening at hospitals. We thought ICQ could be a very useful tool in disaster management."

In February, the group carried out a disaster drill in hospitals. More than 200 "victims" were involved, and situations were set up where all emergency rooms would have to share resources and communicate by using ICQ.

Groups of 20 trauma "victims" needed oxygen, but some emergency rooms only had 19 cylinders.

Using the ICQ software, hospital workers were able to get the cylinders transferred and achieved a 99 per cent success rate in treatment during the drill.