Medics tap patient data

'We have to have accountability of each soldier,' says Lt. Col. Claude Hines, who will leave for Iraq soon to support Army systems for battlefield medics.

Army speeds release of system for combat hospitals

Although much of the new technology the Army is employing for the war in Iraq is intended to boost its fighting advantage on the battlefield, the service expects one system it has rolled out rapidly to save lives.

In the weeks since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the Army has sent portable computers to the battlefield for medics to use as part of the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care program. An integrated suite of MC4 applications runs on Panasonic CF-48 PC notebooks and Portable Data Terminal 8000 handhelds from Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y.

'It captures medical surveillance,' said Lt. Col. Claude Hines, product manager for the program. 'In the future, the patient will have some kind of stored digital record.'

Knowing it would need to support forward-deployed surgical teams and about a dozen combat hospitals for a war in the Persian Gulf, the Army in December accelerated development of the MC4 apps. The service began the project in 1999 at Fort Detrick, Md.

Double duty

On March 28, the MC4 Product Office received word that the timeframe for product deployment would be accelerated further, said Richard D. Nidel, director of business and supportability for the MC4 Product Office.

There are currently about 140 deployed MC4 systems in Kuwait and Iraq, and that number could double, he said.

In addition, the MC4 help desk and product support team will grow from two to about 10 people in the Persian Gulf region. Hines expects to leave for the area this month to maintain the systems.
MC4 helps medics treat patients on the battlefield by speeding access to medical records in the Composite Health Care System II database.

It links 10 Army Medical Department operational systems and has a Battlefield Medical Information System-Telemedicine app that lets medics enter information from the field, such as if a soldier is wounded.

The data also is stored in a central database so medical specialists can analyze trends, Nidel said.
Using MC4, medics can perform a range of tasks, such as tracking symptoms of patients throughout the theater, ordering supplies in bulk and finding information on drug doses and physician references.

Tracking movements

A limited logistics component that lets medical units track supply shipments has been deployed with the Army's 4th Infantry Division, which last week was arriving in the Gulf region.

MC4 also runs an app known as TRAC2ES that lets combat medics track the movement of patients as they are treated and as they move throughout the theater.

'It monitors the movement of patients, and it tells combatant commanders, 'Hey, this soldier is hurt. He needs to be replaced,' ' Hines said. 'We have to have accountability of each soldier.'

Although many brigades in Iraq are still using a paper medical records process that dates back to World War II to document war injuries, numerous combat medics have been trained on MC4 for use in Kuwait and Iraq.

Soldiers carry paper cards on them at all times, detailing their immunization and treatment records. But in many instances, the cards get damaged in bad weather or are lost, leaving medics to render assessments based on a soldier's recollection of previous care.

The MC4 data allows quicker and more accurate medical treatment for soldiers, Nidel said. 'This was a major change to a combat medic's business processes,' he said.

Besides improving Army medical operations, MC4 helps the service's medical teams coordinate more easily with other military doctors.

Better medicine

The system supports the information infrastructure to tap the Defense Department's joint Theater Medical Information Program. TMIP provides digitized health diagnostic and treatment information and synchronizes all military health services within a theater.

Each service can get an up-to-date picture of medical personnel as well as injured and dead warfighters, Hines said.

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