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Medical News and Perspectives
January 10, 2007

Ham Radio Gives Physicians Long Reach

JAMA. 2007;297(2):143-144. doi:10.1001/jama.297.2.143

Mention “ham radio,” and images of whiz kids in the 1940s surrounded by electronic equipment comes to mind. But it continues to play an important role in the 21st century, especially during major disasters, when other conventional means of reaching help fail, and on a much smaller scale, when it enables physicians to offer lifesaving instruction to those facing medical emergencies in remote places like the high seas or isolated rainforests.

Although ham, or amateur, radio may seem anachronistic in a day and age when one can communicate via cell phones, the Internet, or wireless handheld devices, there are an estimated 675 000 operators in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide. For many, ham radio (the origin of “ham” is unknown) is a hobby combining technical expertise with receivers and transmitters and an ability to chat with others, sometimes around the world. The cost of equipment is as little as $200, licensing by the Federal Communications Commission is $40, and knowledge of Morse code is no longer required for entry-level licensure.

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