Digital Medical Records Survive Katrina

ByABC News

Sept. 16, 2005 &#151 -- In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at how Hurricane Katrina didn't beat war veterans -- or, at least not their medical records. Plus, we hear what one female programmer says about all those busty babes in today's video games.

When emergencies and natural disasters arise, safety advocates advise that people should pack in their survival kits important records -- identification papers, medical records, financial statements -- along with the basic necessities such as food, water, medicines and clothing.

Why? Because as the recent disaster in the Gulf Coast region shows, the vital paper-based records kept at other places might not survive.

A countless number of hospitals, healthcare centers, and doctors' offices have been destroyed by Katrina's fierce wind and water. The result: Doctors and relief workers in the disaster zone can't provide complete medical care to thousands of survivors suffering from complex health issues.

Unless the patient before them happens to be one of the nation's war veterans.

"We were very lucky at the Department of Veterans Affairs because for many years now, our entire system -- which included approximately 5.25 million patients -- has been tracked using electronic medical records," says Scott Hogenson, spokesman for the VA. "And so when a disaster like Katrina strikes… all of these electronic records can be backed up electronically and then safely transported to a remote location away from danger."

And that's exactly what the federal agency managed to do when Katrina came roaring ashore.

"Even as the storm was at its height, we were preserving that medical information -- all of their history, all of their tests, all of their X-rays, all of their ultrasounds, all of their prescriptions were digitally encrypted, stored, secured and then safely shipped to Houston. We had them back online in a matter of hours," says Hogenson."

Switching from paper-based to digitally encoded medical records offers other practical, everyday advantages.

"Say you have a vet who makes his home in Seattle, Washington and [he] goes on vacation to Disneyworld in Orlando," says Hogenson. "He gets sick and has to go to a VA hospital. Boom! The doctor in Orlando has everything."

The federal government hopes to give most Americans computerized medical records within 10 years. But the health care and technology industries have been concerned about issues of cost and security.

-- Larry Jacobs, ABC News

Busty Lara Croft of "Tomb Raider" fame, the bikini-clad athletes of "Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball," the naked "girlfriends" hidden in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas…" Shouldn't all those scantily clad women in video games get some clothes on?

"It's as though all the games do it, so of course we're going to do it too," says Tara Teich, a 26-year-old programmer for Mad Doc Software in Lawrence, Mass. "If you're making a game about something more general, you don't need to have women that look like that in there."

That's why Teich relishes her job. With only an estimated 10 percent of the video game industry staffed by women, Teich says it's important for her and other female programmers to act as industry watchdog to the boys who'd have all virtual women look unrealistic.

"I can just be there and say, 'Hey, you know … women might not really appreciate it. Does that really add value, or is that just something you guys think is funny?'" she says.

Women make up only 30 percent of the video game players out there. But Teich says more might play, if they knew how diverse games really are. In other words, more attention needs to be given to games other than the raunchy titles, such as "Grand Theft Auto," that always seems to grab news headlines.

"I think that the problem is that women don't realize that there's more to the game [industry] than that," she says. "There's so many genres out there … there's a game for everyone if they can just find it."

And if the industry continues to create those kind of games and make them easily accessible to women, then everyone benefits, she says.

"I think that if women start playing and speaking up more, then we're going to start seeing the direction and the attention skewed more toward what we'd like to see," says Teich. "There are many games out there that women would love to play that don't have to do with sex."

-- Cheri Preston, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.

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