Guest column:Wireless technology: Tool by day, friend by night

Generally, I could care less if some hotshot banker misses out on a big trade because he didn't have a wireless trading system on his handheld. Or if a CEO doesn't close the big merger because his cell phone wasn't getting service, it doesn't normally affect me. Most of the uses of wireless technology simply make it easier to do business, but life would go on without them.

But there are some uses of wireless technology that really can make an impact on people's lives, day in and day out. Hospitals and other health care facilities are some of the largest buyers of pagers, cell phones, handhelds, and wireless LANs around, and there is a very good reason for it. Every day you hear another story of how a cell phone saved someone's life. It makes me want to cuddle up with my Nokia every night.

The world loves to gripe about the changes wireless technologies bring about in our culture, how there is no sanctuary anymore, and how wireless microwaves are frying our brains. But here are some uses of wireless technology that make you wonder how we ever survived without it.

Of course, you want to be able to track down your doctor at any time, which makes pagers and cell phones a must. But it doesn't stop there. Hospitals use handhelds to keep current on patient records, synchronising through a wireless LAN any new information about the patient. Information is instantly entered into the hospital's central database, available to anyone with clearance to access it. In the past, the process of entering this kind of patient data could take weeks, and that's only if the administrator could read the doctor's chicken scratch (How do those pharmacists do it?).

In another life-saving use, patients awaiting organ transplants carry pagers so that they can be notified the instant a donor is identified. Imagine walking around for weeks or months with your pager waiting for that page. How many times would you test it? Or change the batteries? I know I'd be clipping the thing to my earlobe to ensure I would hear it when it beeped.

All kinds of wireless transmitters are being built into any number of devices. Some cars in the near future will alert emergency officials when airbags are set off. A pacemaker can notify the hospital if it begins to malfunction. These are real life-saving uses of wireless technology, and there really isn't a bad word that can be said about them.

But my favorite life-saving wireless story has to be the one that was told to kick off the Wireless 2000 show in New Orleans last month. A woman was kidnapped and locked in the trunk of a car. As the car sped down the interstate, this woman had the presence of mind to remember her cell phone and call 911. The 911 operator talked her through the ordeal, located the signal, and dispatched police to track down the car.

Now is that worth the 40 bucks a month you pay for a cell phone?

If they could only stop road cell-phone dialers from putting people in the hospital with their dangerous behavior, wireless technology would save more lives than it endangers.

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