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SANANTONIO -- Is there a better way to treat evacuees in the middle of a disaster? The American Medical Association and local trauma personnel think so. And they say a patient smart card would help.

In August 2005, thousands upon thousands of evacuees from New Orleans flooded into San Antonio, fleeing the wrath of hurricane Katrina. They came by bus and plane, many of them needing medical attention. But doctors and nurses were hampered by a lack of information.

One of the challenges we have when people are evacuated in a natural disaster, many times they don t have their medications, explained Eric Epley, executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council for Trauma (STRAC). They know what medicines they re on as the little blue pill or the big red one. They don t even know what it s for.

On Wednesday at the Alamodome, the AMA and STRAC showed off how a patient smart care would help.

If each person had a card with a small gold chip that held basic medical facts, paramedics and doctors could help them better and faster in an emergency.

We would store somewhere around 30 critical data points, Epley said. Your past medical history, the current medications, allergies. Things that a paramedic or an ER physician would need to know if you are unconscious.

The card is inserted into a reader and a patient fingerprint confirms their identity. Information can be transmitted wirelessly to waiting medical personnel.

Smart cards are used in the military and by some federal employees, so the technology already exists.

Conceptually, it could be available in six months to a year, Epley stated.

Advocates of a national patient smart card program say it would not only increase patient safety. It would also help cut down on fraud and abuse.

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