A new deal, with no cards

'One of the most critical things is that information that's being captured is rolling up the chain to our DOD databases so that information can be mined at any time.'

'Lt. Col. Claude Hines, MC4 product manager

Henrik G. de Gyor

Integrated system tracks soliders' medical history, starting in the field

Since World War II, soldiers deployed on contingency operations have carried paper medical cards listing their medical history, immunization records and treatments.

But with the unpredictable nature of war and the frequent movement of troops, the Form 1380 cards would often get lost or become weather-beaten, leaving Army medics to base their medical assessments on a soldier's memory of previous care.

Further, the paper method gave medics no way of tracking medical trends on the battlefield.

Handhelds to the front

These days, medics maneuvering across the treacherous roads and fields in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar need only a handheld or a notebook computer to check the medical records of a solider suffering anything from the common cold to a life-threatening illness.

Since the start of military operations in Iraq, the Army has sent portable computers to the battlefield for medics to use as part of the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care program.

MC4 is the infrastructure that integrates military and commercial hardware and software products into a complete automated medical records picture for deployed forces. The tactical system runs on ruggedized notebook PCs and handhelds, and offers surveillance, tracking and logistical information on a patient's whereabouts and condition.

'We are the single Army medical information management program for the deployable medical force,' said Lt. Col. Claude Hines, MC4 product manager, headquartered at Fort Detrick, Md. 'One of the most critical things is that information being captured is rolling up the chain to our DOD databases so that information can be mined at any time.'

For example, if a soldier is critically injured in Iraq and needs to be transported to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, his medical information would be documented in the Clinical Data Repository so Walter Reed doctors could analyze and continue his care, Hines said.

Before, soldiers would bring their paper cards with them.

'On the patient care side, we're able to keep medical records on the computer on patients we've seen, and we also have the ability to look up where the patient previously has been seen and what else he has been seen for,' said Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Wallace of the 2-3 Infantry Division of the First Stryker Brigade of Fort Lewis, Washington.

MC4 helps medics treat patients on the battlefield by giving them access to medical records in the Composite Health Care System II Theater database, which runs over the MC4 infrastructure. So far, roughly 5,000 MC4 systems have been deployed to 200 units in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, and the service plans to deploy additional units to Afghanistan, Korea and Germany in 2006.

MC4 links about a dozen Army Medical Department operational systems and features a Battlefield Medical Information System-Telemedicine application that lets medics enter information from the field, such as if a soldier is wounded.

Versatile app

Another app known as TRAC2ES (Transportation Command Regulating and Command and Control Evacuation System), developed by Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., lets combat medics track the movement of patients as they are treated and as they move throughout the theater.

Using MC4, medics perform a range of tasks, such as tracking symptoms of patients, ordering supplies in bulk and finding information on drug doses and physician references.

Wallace's unit was among the first to use the MC4 systems in Iraq, ordering medical supplies across the system, providing everyday patient care and even keeping track of expiration dates for medicine.

MC4 has also cut down on medical errors associated with reading a soldier's sometimes indecipherable paper cards, he said.

'It enables the medical supply guys to get near-instantaneous feedback on equipment,' Wallace said. 'In the old days, the only way you got medical supplies was to hand paper copies down to our support battalion. Now I'm able to do it and send it directly to the medical supply guys, so it's cut out all the middle guys directly.'

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

Earlier this year, the Army awarded Anteon International Corp. of Fairfax, Va., a five-year, $117 million contract to support the MC4 program.

The company will provide program management to the MC4 Program Management Office for all phases of the program.

Hines said the MC4 program started in 1999'two years after Congress mandated that DOD develop a medical tracking system for its members deployed for contingency operations overseas.

The Army started deploying systems for contingency operations in 2002.

For more information on the program, go to www.mc4.army.mil.

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