Developing a Common Operating Picture in Military Health: Being Ready for the Next Fight

To treat U.S. warfighters effectively, the military health system must integrate medical data that’s been siloed in out-of-date systems — and do it in situations where bandwidth is scarce.
11:23 AM

The success of any military mission — be it conducted by the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines – relies upon “readiness.” The United States Department of Defense (DoD) defines readiness as “the ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions.”1 The Armed Forces maintain such readiness with the combination of training, maintenance, and vital communication streams between the different branches and supporting entities. In doing so, they can better ensure the right personnel and equipment are available when required.

But one area where it can be difficult to assess readiness is in the military health system. Michael Wittman, Military Health Program Manager at Northrop Grumman Corporation, said that outdated systems operating in data siloes inhibit military treatment facilities (MTFs) from adequately communicating readiness to treat the service members. In addition, it can also interfere with the MTF’s ability to effectively communicate to military commanders the most up-to-date status of their fighting forces.

“I’ve seen a statistic in a few briefings that, of the 30,000 casualties and injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer than 10% of those warfighters had any documentation on their medical status,” he said. “Any care conducted at the point of injury is often written on paper — or even just written with a Sharpie directly onto bandages or the body itself. It may not get into the electronic health record, meaning breaks could occur in the continuity of care, and it may not be communicated to the higher-ups that a service member is receiving care and no longer able to fight.”

A common operating picture (COP) for the military health system consists of a data aggregation system that can bring information together from the full range of military operations across the Armed Forces’ military treatment facilities (MTFs) and medical institutes. Its development could help better provide the military command with an accurate, real-time description of readiness: both the preparedness of individual facilities to assume certain types of medical cases based on staffing, supplies, and other resources, and both the readiness of current and future readiness of the fighting force on the ground.

“The biggest challenge, really, is finding ways to facilitate communication,” said Wittman. “There’s a limited amount of bandwidth — in some cases, no bandwidth is available at all — and a real need exists for capabilities that send and receive essential data in low- or no-comms situations.”

As MTFs are moved to the control of the Defense Health Agency (DHA), great opportunity lies in developing a medical COP that can better provide the necessary data to determine readiness at every level of the chain of command.

“The fuel behind this is near-real-time data integration, both in garrison environments as well as from point-of-injury care on the ground,” he said. “The medical COP could integrate with command-and-control line systems so that it can leverage operational data, adding in medical data to provide complete situational awareness on what is occurring in the medical operations and how it affects the warfighting force, giving combatant commanders and other joint force commanders the ability to make more-informed decisions about where to place resources.”

To learn more about how Northrop Grumman is defining what’s possible to better support force readiness, both inside and outside military treatment facilities, visit Northrop Grumman Military Health.


  1. United States Department of Defense. DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.  Accessed 2 January 2020.
Want to get more stories like this one? Get daily news updates from Healthcare IT News.
Your subscription has been saved.
Something went wrong. Please try again.