The U.S. military has long been a pioneer in the use of cutting-edge health technologies that provide real benefit to clinicians and patients. Not only does it provide the ideal location to create and implement such technologies, but it’s also a key testing ground for a range of new solutions that can and should be implemented in hospitals and health networks across the U.S.
As a Navy physician deployed with the Marines in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, I was able to witness and experience firsthand the impact of new electronic health technologies. Despite the inhospitable environment and lack of existing infrastructure, we had wireless monitoring devices to measure vital signs, X-ray machines that provided digital images, and often the ability to access a ‘light’ version of the military’s electronic medical records system. We could also send pictures and clinical summaries via secure email to specialists for expedited consultations.
Despite these innovations, communication from the point of injury through the various levels of care to the point of definitive treatment was one of our greatest challenges. For example, a military service member injured while on a patrol is initially evaluated by an Army medic. The service member is then sent to a Navy surgical team for resuscitation. After initial stabilization, the injured soldier is then picked up by a NATO helicopter and transferred to a British hospital. After further evaluation and treatment of his wounds, he is flown to Germany by an Air Force aircraft and eventually to the U.S. In each of these stages of care, the patient’s history, condition and previous treatments needed to be reviewed, and although this process was performed by military personnel with considerable experience and expertise, the delay in definitive treatment could have increased morbidity and potentially mortality. Additionally, the triage of the patients arriving in each level of care depended on the communication between field medics and clinicians. This was often complicated by language barriers between the various countries and different levels of training.
In this environment, I realized that not only the military, but every health system in the U.S. would benefit greatly from a solution that can integrate patient data across the continuum of care with existing EMR systems , including:
- Live data: Critical vital signs and ECG data collected on an injured patient, visible and accessible by key medical personnel and clinicians in the various levels of care, as well as those involved in the medical evacuation process.
- Historic data: Pertinent EMR information regardless of platform, country or language. For example, a clinician evaluating a patient with chest pain in a field hospital would benefit from the ability to compare the live ECG with historic ECGs contained in the patient’s medical record.
- Bidirectional data flow: Efficient data entry of the medical care provided, including evaluation and treatment information, which could be viewed by clinicians throughout the spectrum of care immediately.
- Integrated platform: One user portal with one login. Live and historic data from multiple sources, including sensor-based data and different EMR systems accessed and manipulated using one mobile platform.
- Secure texting and video conferencing: Communicating live data quickly and securely to allow medical personnel to interact with clinicians and obtain real time remote consultations from specialists able to provide immediate feedback.
- Remote learning: Providing relevant information when and where it is needed, including tools for evaluation and treatment of patients, training and translation. For example, field medics could access training tools specific to the area of operation focusing on the greatest threats.
With this type of strong communications infrastructure in place, military medical personnel can capture patient information much more quickly, put the right data into the right hands at the right time and further improve patient outcomes to save lives of our troops in harm’s way. These innovations will fill a critical need for hospitals and health systems in the public sector by ultimately enabling the seamless flow of information that will save precious time between accurate diagnoses and effective, targeted treatments.