Health IT goes to war

Watts spearheads work on a battlefield records system

KEVIN WATTS: Army

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:

1988 Received Army basic training; first posting as Morse Code intercept specialist

1993 Received bachelor's degree in biology from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania; commissioned as second lieutenant

1998 Promoted to captain

1999 Company commander for the Army Medical Department Activity at Fort Drum, N.Y.

2003 Established the electronic flow for Class VIII (medical) materiel into Iraq

2004 Received master's in information management and IT from Touro University; promoted to major

2005 Voted senior manager of the year for the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4).

Maj. Kevin Watts

Rick Steele

Recovering the wounded from the battlefield is a tradition as old as warfare. But it wasn't until Napoleon that the importance of treating the wounded on the field was emphasized. Now, the Army's Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) has taken that a step further.

Getting the MC4 system successfully deployed to the troops on the firing lines in Iraq was the responsibility of Maj. Kevin Watts, MC4's assistant product manager, and those under his command. The mission was accomplished.

'The MC4 project has, for the first time in history, provided the means to document electronically the health care provided to warfighters on the battlefield,' said Lt. Col. Edward Clayson, MC4's commander and product manager at Fort Detrick, Md.

'Kevin is focused on the mission,' he said, 'and he accomplishes the mission with the greatest efficiency.'

Career path

Watts embarked on this road when he joined the Army out of high school. After completing his initial enlistment, he enrolled in college, spent four years in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and got a bachelor of science degree. When he graduated, he returned to active duty in 1993 as a second lieutenant.

For the next several years, he held a variety of positions in medical units in Texas and New York before becoming CIO of the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center in 2001. The unit was created to provide centralized information management of medical material and medical equipment maintenance to deployed forces.

As CIO, Watts was responsible for establishing remotely hosted logistics systems databases for Army medical facilities. Before the Iraq war began, he went to Kuwait to configure satellite phones for use in medical consultations and logistics.

Then, once Baghdad was taken, he went there for a month to set up network connections and provide medical logistics application training for medical supply officers and treatment facilities.

'Watts' courage has no boundaries,' said Kevin Carroll, the Army's Program Executive Officer for enterprise information systems. 'While deploying into a combat zone, Watts successfully completed his mission by leading a team of contractors in training and fielding a complex IM/IT system during a time of war.'

But Watts takes working under such conditions in stride. 'I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn't do myself,' he said.

From there he moved on to the position of assistant product manager for MC4. The MC4 system consists of handheld devices and ruggedized notebook PCs that medical personnel in the field use to enter treatment rendered. Then the data is uploaded and becomes part of the soldier's permanent medical record. MC4 improves the quality of care given in the battle zone, as well as making it easier to get the right services when they return home.

'Historically, service members, when applying for [Veterans Affairs Department] benefits, have had difficulty proving what happened to them on the battlefield because records of their health care on the battlefield did not exist,' Clayson said. 'With the advent of the MC4 system, service members will have access to records [of] the health care provided to them on the battlefield.'

Once he joined MC4 in 2004, Watts led a team to Iraq to see that it was properly deployed and to set up technical support, including a 24-hour help desk.

'Watts' leadership was instrumental in the fielding of MC4 systems to more than 250 deployed combat and medical units on the battlefield,' Carroll said. As a result, roughly 270,000 electronic medical records were captured in the combat zone.

Back home, on duty

From Iraq, Watts went stateside, where he led a team of MC4 technicians and trainers in deploying 100 MC4 systems to medical personnel in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck.

'Over the course of his service in the Army, Watts has consistently displayed a high level of performance, professionalism and versatility,' Carroll said. 'His achievements and contributions have rapidly advanced the fields of information and medical technologies.'

Although he is recognized now as an accomplished manager, Watts says he wasn't always that way and credits several people who have helped make him a better leader. When he was a newly minted second lieutenant, he tried to do everything himself until his platoon sergeant taught him to trust those under his command to carry their part of the load.

More recently, it was his commander in Iraq who showed him how good leadership can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He also cites those under him for making him successful.

'One person cannot do it by himself,' Watts said. 'All these accomplishments were due to the people who work for me.'

And while it is his job to inspire those under him, he says what motivates him is seeing the effect his work has on supporting the deployed troops.

He has seen recently retired friends who had no documentation to validate their claims with Veterans Affairs and knows how important what he is doing is to the troops.

'What we all do here in MC4 affects their lifelong well-being,' he said. 'Knowing that what I do affects soldiers keeps me going every day.'

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