Internal Defense Department research and development coupled with commercial off-the-shelf technologies is speeding medical care to wounded soldiers on the battlefield. In ongoing programs, scientists are investigating remote health maintenance and trauma care tools ranging from dog tags that hold an entire medical history to diagnostic equipment that helps evaluate the severity of an injury.
Technology providers are responding to the growing demand for telemedicine services by combining individual strengths. Companies that specialize in integration are working hand in hand with medical personnel to determine preferences and needs and then are bringing this information back to hardware and software developers for implementation into products. Individually, these companies could only bring part of the solution to the medical community; together, they are helping to increase the use of telemedicine.
Lightweight ultrasound technology that captures three-dimensional images may help determine the extent of internal bleeding of injured soldiers on the battlefield at least 40 times faster than current equipment. Although the capability to acquire these pictures has been achieved in the past, a system currently being developed by a medical center under contract with the U.S. Defense Department would put this medical service closer to the front lines by making the equipment easily portable.
On the battlefield of the future, a U.S. Army soldier is hit by shrapnel from an artillery round and is rendered unconscious with internal injuries to his torso. He is alone and no one witnesses his injury, but the intelligent agents in his automated self-monitoring system detect that he is in crisis, and the system transmits a signal to a regional command center. Officers at the command center dispatch an unmanned rescue vehicle, which enters the live-fire zone and deploys small robots to collect him carefully for removal from the hot zone.
Soldiers in the Iraqi theater are receiving medical care from doctors thousands of miles away through telehealth programs and the use of the Internet and servers. Physicians using this capability can provide better continuity of care and better medical access, as well as reduce loss of duty time for soldiers deployed in Iraq. In addition, the telemedicine systems implemented in Iraq throughout 2004 and into 2005 have aided not only the soldiers receiving the care but also the doctors providing it. The technology not only keeps them safe from traveling through hostile environments but also allows more collaboration between other doctors in theater.
Research being conducted in the depths of the sea is revealing lessons in medicine that will help humankind in remote areas on Earth and allow future generations to travel to the far reaches of space. With capabilities provided by telecommunications, robotic and scuba equipment and an underwater habitat called Aquarius, space program personnel and medical doctors are examining the challenges of telemedicine in extreme environments. The information being gathered runs the gamut-from the unpredictable effects of the ambient atmosphere on devices to the need for improved human-machine interfaces to insights about the skills required to perform surgical procedures. And, while participants have their eyes on the skies, they readily attest that the lessons they learn undoubtedly can be applied in the battlefield to save not only lives but also limbs.
Battlefield medical personnel may soon use a handheld device to perform rapid triage on wounded soldiers by remotely sensing vital functions such as respiration and heart rate without exposing themselves to enemy fire. A radar emitter built into the unit detects the movement of a person's internal organs. With this equipment, medics can verify whether an individual is alive without removing body armor and equipment. More advanced versions of the system may permit medics to monitor the vital signs of up to 10 people simultaneously.