Connecting Systems, Connecting Care: Improving Comms from Point of Injury to MTF

The military health system is challenged to keep medical data intact as a wounded warfighter moves through a system that can’t transmit it. Now new technologies are bringing bandwidth to frontline treatment.
09:00 AM
Soldiers looking at a monitor

One of the greatest challenges facing the military health system is finding consistent, effective ways to communicate a warfighter’s health information as he or she moves from point-of-injury to a military treatment facility (MTF). Erik Buice, Vice President of Civil and Health at Northrop Grumman Corporation, said many MTFs operate with older, legacy systems in a “low-to-no” communications environment. Because of those factors, it has been incumbent on the military care providers to find workarounds in order preserve the health, safety, and longevity of each Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman during the course of care.

“This is a huge challenge in operational medicine,” he said. “Of the tens of thousands of casualties that occurred in Operations Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom, only about 10% of those warfighters traveled from point-of-injury to further treatment with any kind of documentation. In many cases, that lack of documentation was because there wasn’t the ability to transmit it. That can result in a lot of gaps in care.”

Yet there is now technology in place, Buice said, that can enhance communications, both on and off the battlefield – adding the kind of bandwidth that will allow vital information like details of a warfighter’s health status, his or her medical history, as well as the type and manner stabilizing care he or she received while in route to the MTF.

“There are certainly ways to add bandwidth where it is needed,” said Buice. “Yet, there’s more to it than that. You also have to find ways to link systems that, in the past, haven’t been able to talk to one another.”

The decision to move the military health system, regardless of branch, to a single electronic health record (EHR) system, MHS GENESIS, under the Defense Health Agency, is a step in the right direction, said Buice. Yet, many military providers and MTFs still rely on a host of older legacy systems that, regardless of increased bandwidth, may not be able to transfer data to where it’s most needed. That “hyper-variance” can be an issue when trying to improve comms across the military health landscape.

“While most of these systems and devices are, in theory, based on the same HL7 protocols, they are all structured just a little bit differently,” he said. “You want these different systems to talk to one another, to effortlessly share the information that is most essential to care. What you need is a common operating picture. And, to get there, you need to work with partners who have experience in military health and can come up with a single overall integrator approach that can pull information from both old and new systems to ensure the most critical components are being communicated to where they need to be communicated.”

While tomorrow’s battlefields are, yet, unknown, Buice said it is imperative that the military health system be ready to integrate a variety of endpoints, regardless of the comms environment.

“The threat environment evolves quickly,” he said. “Technology needs to be able to keep up. The military health system needs to start preparing for the future today – and make sure they are working closely with industry experts to more effectively communicate the warfighter’s health information from any point in care.”

To learn more about how Northrop Grumman is defining what’s possible when it comes to improving comms from point-of-injury to military treatment facility, visit Northrop Grumman Military Health.

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